Ask an Expert: Mahadevan Gomathisankaran

Mahadevan Gomathisankaran (Photo by Gary Payne)How can you safely shop online during the holiday season?

Shopping online for your holiday gifts has never been easier, but consumers should beware of falling victim to phishing attacks or malware, says Mahadevan Gomathisankaran, assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

"E-commerce has flourished because of the ability to perform secure transactions online using the proper tools," he says. "If consumers use common sense and follow practical safety measures, they can protect themselves from identity theft."

He reminds consumers not to be fooled by online and email scams and offers the following tips to keep finances and credit cards protected when buying gifts online this season:

Verify

  • Check the e-commerce business's accreditation rating through the Better Business Bureau online or through Google Trusted Site to be sure the business is legitimate.
  • Make sure you provide your confidential information only on a website with a secure link, SSL (secure sockets layer). You'll know this if the URL for the site starts with https instead of just http.
  • Ensure that the website's digital certificate — showing an independent third party has guaranteed the website is what it claims to be — is valid. If your browser alerts you to a problem, do not click through.

Defend

  • Use virtual card numbers with predefined limits for online transactions. Many banking institutions offer these so you don't have to give out your real credit card number.
  • Choose strong passwords. If you store information at an online shopping site, make sure your password uses eight or more characters.
  • Make sure your computer is protected against malware with up-to-date virus protection software.

Detect

  • Watch your credit card statements regularly and report any suspicious account activity. You can set up alerts through email and texts to monitor usage of your card.
  • Check credit reports — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — periodically to find any unexpected transactions. You can get a free copy of your report from each of the credit bureaus.

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