Wheaton expert: Online shoppers should stay vigilant against privacy hackers

More of you are expected to shop online this holiday season and that means more vigilance is needed to protect your private information, a Wheaton expert said.

A National Retail Federal survey said 56 percent of responding consumers plan to shop online this holiday season, compared to 51.5 percent last year, and the most in the survey's 13-year-history. That means you'll need to remain cautious while protecting your devices and identity even more, especially in the wake of massive hacks at retailers, including Target, Jewel-Osco, Home Depot and others, said Vince Mazza, co-founder of Guard Street. The Wheaton company opened earlier this year and provides protection tools to consumers for their PCs and mobile devices.

“Anyone who stores data, uses passwords, shops or banks online, are all at risk,” Mazza said. “Even those who use social networking sites are at risk of losing their personal data.”

While many consumers change their passwords regularly or subscribe to security and virus protection, hackers still find a way through, he said.

“This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, and you have to work on this until it becomes a natural, every day thing to do,” he said about practicing how to protect your information online.

To help you during this heavy shopping season online, Mazza has these recommendations:

• Shop securely. Use a secure virtual private network, known as a VPN, so cybercriminals cannot track your activity from your mobile device, desktop or laptop. Be wary of free Wi-Fi, because it may reveal your private information. Also use a so-called disposable email when visiting sites that require email addresses and you don't want to provide your own. Visit to create your own disposable emails.

• Watch your transactions: When paying online, make sure the connection is secure by the padlock emblem or the URL with the “https” at the top.

• Stop before you share. Find out who is asking you for your information and be careful of any links they provide and ask you to click.

• Watch your monthly credit card statements. If there are any unauthorized charges, report it. Also, check your annual credit report to make sure no one has opened new accounts in your name.

• Beware of email scams. Whenever a major retailer reported a major hack, some scammers came out of the woodwork by sending bogus emails to victims seeking more personal information.

• Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter. Write to her at

A man shops online by using his smartphone, like many more are expected to do this year. Online sales are expected to increase this holiday season and so could the hackers. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
Vince Mazza
This is a screen shot of Guard Street's website.
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