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    Five tips to protect yourself from cybercrime this shopping season

    Experts anticipate the number of cyber threats will increase this holiday season, as shoppers head online and in-store in record numbers to purchase gifts. Consumers should be on alert following this year’s high-profile cyber data breaches at national retailers, yet many are not taking sufficient precautions to protect their personal information.

    Research shows consumers know credit card fraud is a reality in today’s economy. In 2013, 552 million consumer identities were stolen from retailer data breaches according to the 2013 Norton Report, and that number is projected to grow in 2014. Nearly 70 percent of Americans frequently or occasionally worry about identity theft, according to a recent Gallup Poll and 62 percent worry about having a computer or smartphone hacked. More than a quarter of Americans reported they, or someone in their household, had personal financial information stolen in the last year by computer hackers who targeted retailers.

    Despite these fears, most consumers aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect their private information. Nearly half of smartphone and tablet users do not take even the basic precautions to protect their mobile devices, according to the 2013 Norton Report. This includes using passwords, installing security software or backing up files. Nevertheless, they’re sharing personal financial information more than ever.

    This year, analysts noted fewer sales over the popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday as consumers took advantage of sales happening before and after the popular shopping holidays. Bloomberg reported that although online shopping on Cyber Monday rose only 8.5 percent, as compared to 20.6 percent on the same day last year, it is because consumers are spreading their online shopping to other days throughout the holiday season.

    “With the added threat of retailer hacking, cyber crime is at an all-time high for today’s consumer,” says Dr. Rajin Koonjbearry, professor in the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University. “An ill-informed consumer is a hacker’s primary target, so this holiday season consumers take responsibility for their own protection.”

    Koonjbearry offers these tips for consumers to protect themselves against cyber hacks:

    * Shop on secure websites: Avoid accidentally clicking on infected sites by looking for the SSL certificate and ensure the site starts with https:// and has a padlock icon.

    * Keep your passwords secure: Use different passwords for each of your online accounts, and change each password every three months in case your data is hacked.

    * Update anti-virus software regularly: Cyber criminals are always developing new viruses to hack into your devices. To ensure your computer is protected from the latest threats, install anti-virus software and configure it to update automatically.

    * Delete apps you don’t use: Information stored in mobile applications, like passwords, is vulnerable to Internet hacking. Get rid of apps you no longer use.

    * Swipe your own card: When you’re shopping in-store, always swipe your own card or ask the clerk to swipe the card in front of you to ensure they don’t copy any personal information.

    “Cyber criminals will pounce on the opportunity to exploit a seemingly simple security mistake,” says Koonjbearry. “Savvy consumers need to mitigate the risks by staying wary of anything suspicious this holiday season.”

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