How to protect personal data from scammers while holiday shopping

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and as shoppers continue to seek deals online, authorities are warning consumers that scammers are hunting for their information.

According to the FBI's Internet Crime Report, the cost of cyber-crimes reached $2.7 billion last year.

National Tax Security Awareness Week is December 3 - 6 this year, and business experts are warning consumers to keep an eye out for scams while holiday shopping.

"Cyber-attacks are a growing threat for small business and for the U.S. economy," said Robert Steiner, of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Authorities are also warning consumers and business owners that identify theft is on the rise and to be aware of their online footprints.

"In the first three quarters of 2019 we've surpassed the total numbers of complaints that we received in all of 2018," said Todd Kossow, of the Federal Trade Commission.

As shoppers continue to shift to buying online, experts say scammers are waiting and lurking in the background.

"Remember when you're shopping for gifts, criminals are shopping for your credit cards," said Donald Easkins, of the IRS Chicago Field Office.

Authorities said after your information is stolen, it could end up anywhere, including the dark web, where criminals use and sell your personal information to either steal your money or identity.

The IRS says with fast-developing technology, no consumer or business, big or small, is immune to scammers anymore.

"The bad guys are getting more sophisticated and we need to keep up with them and were able to use big data better," said David Harris, of the Director of Illinois Department of Revenue.

The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau offered these tips to keep your information safe:

  • Do your homework. If there is an online retailer you're not familiar with, search for the company with the words "review, complaint, and scam."

  • Shop trustworthy sellers with secure sites, with web address that begin with HTTPS - the "s" being important. Always deal directly with secure websites, and never click any link in emails that ask for your personal information.

  • Update antivirus software on both your computer and mobile devices to prevent becoming a victim of phishing scams that could lead to hackers holding your devices hostage.

  • Using your credit card will add protection and make it easier to contest any unauthorized charges.

Experts also recommend ensuring the online retailer you're working with has contact information, including a working email address, mailing address, and phone number, so that there is someone to contact if you have a complaint.
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