The holidays may be the season of giving for some, but for online shopping scammers — it’s the season of taking.

With Christmas only days away, many people are scouring the internet to fill up stockings and round out the space under the tree. If they’re not careful, experts say they may make personal information rife for the taking.

To protect local residents, Longmont and Boulder tech experts and authorities offered a few tips.

Longmont Police Department Cmdr. Joel Post said local authorities tend to see an uptick in their work load in relation to cyber crimes during the holidays, though the amount is difficult to quantify because cases can stem from an array of different crimes, such as identity theft, scamming or hacking. Longmont police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur added that this time of year police also deal with car break ins and thieves who search for unattended packages to snatch from front door steps, known as “porch pirates.”

“Scams are always higher around Christmas, so be vigilant,” Post said.

Shahzad Bhatti teaches computer science, cyber security and networking at Front Range Community College in Longmont. Bhatti said the holiday season should present a “heightened sense of urgency” for online shoppers.

“More of these predators are out there seeking to steal your info because this is a prime time for online transactions,” Bhatti said.

Scammers are seeking opportunities to take passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information and other personal identification which can provide them access to any myriad of personal data. Colorado is the second riskiest state for identity theft, according to a 2018 Denver Post article. Colorado victims on average lost about $4,480 in the scams.

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“If they are able to phish an email, they can steal social security number and then pretend to be you and run up your credit,” Bhatti said.

The prospect of finding the perfect gift for a loved one or friend may lead to “clicking down the internet rabbit hole.” Perhaps the simplest, but most pertinent tip, Bhatti said is to “think before you click.”

While consumers should be more vigilant, protecting their information can be easy to do, Bhatti said. One easy step to secure information is checking that there is lock image present at the left side of the URL address, which indicates the site is secure.

For some, browsing gift options online from the comfort of a coffee shop may seem idyllic, but University of Colorado Boulder’s Sarah Braun, information security officer, said shoppers should be wary of tapping into the public WiFi.

“I discourage people from using public WiFi for any kind of shopping … any kind of banking,” Braun said. “Public WiFi traffic can be monitored and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Bhatti, who also suggested people use their secure personal networks for shopping, said thieves may take advantage of “rogue access points,” which gives scammers the opportunity to pretend to be a “middle man,” posing as the coffee shop or even a person’s bank to pry for personal information.

If there’s a desired website a person wishes to visit, Braun said shoppers should make sure it’s reputable. Otherwise, the person may be subject to fake site and never get the items they ordered.

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“What I do personally, if I am unfamiliar with the site, I like to go to the Better Business Burea (or) Google the company to look at reviews,” Braun said. “A lot of times you can find out really quickly if this is an established company.”

People should also be observant when going through their email. Scammers may try to entice consumers with “click bait,” such as a “lightning deal” or chance for free items, in an effort to secure private information. Bhatti added that “fear tactic” emails are another method employed be scammers. Some may purport to be the police or IRS and demand a social security number, bank account or credit card number.

Post said emails that ask for a payment in the form of a gift card or ask a person to go somewhere and transfer money are likely scams.

Using a credit card as opposed to a debit card can also provide a measure of protection for shoppers. Braun encouraged people to check out fraud protection options if they have a credit card. Some companies offer to keep consumers from being liable for fraudulent charges.

Satur encouraged Longmont residents who experiences a cyber crime to report it to the police. He added crimes can also be reported online via the Internet Complaint Center. Similarly, CU students can report crimes to campus police and residents to the Boulder Police Department. However, Longmont and Boulder police added prosecution can be tricky in these types of crimes, because the perpetrator may be outside the state or country.



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