This holiday season is far from normal, but one tradition is sticking around: online fraud.

Studies show increased shopping volume typically results in a rise of fraud attempts over the holiday season. But online fraud has already been increasing for much of 2020, as more shoppers flocked to online shopping amid stay-at-home orders and ongoing public health concerns resulting from the pandemic. As a result, the record volume of online purchases predicted this holiday season could result in a similar record number of fraud attempts.

“Every year, we monitor a spike in the holiday season,” says Shai Cohen, senior vice president of global fraud solutions at TransUnion. “So if there is a spike every year, we imagine this year the spike will be even larger.”

Fraudsters seek out opportunity, and when more people shop online, those opportunities grow. Right now, people are especially vulnerable, says Vanita Pandey, vice president of marketing and strategy at Arkose Labs, an online fraud prevention technology company. “The propensity for someone to fall victim to these crimes is high, and I believe that fraudsters have all of that information ready to go as the holiday season approaches.”

Here are four major risks you should look out for while shopping online this holiday season, and the specific strategies experts recommend for keeping your data secure.

1. Account Takeover

In the recent past, fraud attempts were typically thieves using stolen credit cards to buy things, says Gary Sevounts, chief marketing officer at Kount, a digital fraud prevention company.

But now the landscape has changed. Your identity is more important than anything else, Pandey says. Fraudsters are not only mining for credit card information, but also login credentials, reward points, and, most importantly, personal account information.

“I don’t need to take your card,” Pandey says. “I could get into your account and once I get into your Gmail account, I can wreak havoc.”

This is called account takeover (ATO) fraud. “When attackers successfully compromise accounts, they monetize their access by abusing credit card or loyalty programs, committing identity fraud, or submitting fraudulent transactions,” according to a recent FBI report on the trend.

Account takeover is such a boon for scammers because — despite being warned otherwise —  many people use the same or similar username and password combinations across multiple online accounts. One hacked account could mean access to others, ranging from your Amazon account to your Twitter profile and even your online banking data.

How to Prevent Account Takeover

It can be difficult to prevent widespread account takeover schemes like data breaches — that responsibility largely falls on merchants taking adequate security measures, according to the experts we spoke to — but you can take steps to secure your data.

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