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How to protect yourself from cyber thieves this shopping season

Miami Valley shoppers should take extra precaution this holiday season as cyber-thieves are expected to step up their attacks on credit cards, ATMs and gifts cards.

Last year’s holiday season was the worst ever in terms of account takeover, according to identity theft intelligence firm 4iQ, and the company expects this year will top that, according to a statement. Cyber crimes continue to grow and are expected to reach around $6 trillion in damages by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

Already this month about $20,000 was stolen via a skimmer reading ATM card information at IH Credit Union in Clark County, although no customer information was compromised. Englewood police are also looking for a man who stole $100,000 from various Huntington Bank ATMs in the Dayton area.

And reputable websites like Newegg have seen recent credit card theft, with a month-long data breach that exposed the credit card information of anyone who purchased something earlier this fall.

“A major holiday like Christmas, obviously there’s going to be a huge spike in solicitations for donations and all those sorts of things, because people are online and they’re spending money. We see an increase in scams even connected to national tragedies,” said Shawn Waldman, CEO of Secure Cyber Defense in Miamisburg.

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Some scammers are targeting gifts cards this year, scratching off the numbers to drain the balance after the card has been activated. (Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS) (Staff Writer)

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Shoppers can take some precautions to protect themselves both online and in store, most importantly checking their credit card activity regularly.

“Don’t wait until you receive your credit card statement to review for fraud or for simple human errors,” said Natalie Dunlevey, president of Dayton-based National Processing Solutions. “Check it online. This is the season to enjoy friends and family but also to remain vigilant. Scammers don’t take a holiday and are counting on you to let down your guard.”

The best practice is to use cash, Dunlevey said. While the new chip readers in cards have reduced fraudulent activity, Dunlevey said it’s nothing compared to other countries in Europe and India that have moved to cards with rotating numbers.

“We’ll just continue to fall down the food chain of easiest country to hack,” she said.

But if shoppers prefer to not carry cash, Waldman said using a credit card is always better than a debit card because credit card companies have more protections against unauthorized purchases.

“Many shoppers are trying to make their dollars stretch as far as possible during the holidays,” she said. “Scammers know this as well and create pop-up websites that advertise impossibly cheap prices for highly sought-after items or ‘hot’ holiday gifts that are impossible to find.”

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Never give information to a website that isn’t marked with a padlock in the address bar at the top of the page, which Dunlevey said indicates the site is secure. And no legitimate retailers will ever ask for credit card information in a pop-up chat window either.

“When you’re shopping online, all those rules still apply,” Waldman said. “Have commercial anti-virus (software). Put as many barriers between you and the hacker.”

The U.S. Postal Service is also warning online shoppers to register their address for the free USPS Informed Delivery program that updates consumers about when their packages arrive. Scammers have started registering home addresses under their own emails so they will know when a package will be delivered.

»RELATED: Area employers still need seasonal help for holidays

Some scammers also go for gift cards found on the kiosks in store aisles, scratching off the numbers and writing them down. Then they wait for the card to be purchased and activated before draining the balance, Dunlevey said.

“Always try to purchase gift cards that are located behind store counters or directly from a retailer’s website,” Dunlevey said. “Look at the back of the card to ensure that the area with the protective scratch-off is intact.”

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