What could be more convenient than shopping online from your computer or smartphone on Cyber Monday? There is no need to brave the huge crowds of frantic shoppers, slow-moving checkout lines, and traffic in nasty winter weather that you often find on Black Friday.
But as the popularity of Cyber Monday grows and the deals get bigger and better, the risks of shopping online increase, too. With so many people expected to shop online, cybercriminals have a golden opportunity to con unsuspecting customers.
Identity theft, retail fraud, phishing scams, and phony charitable organizations looking for “donations” are just a few cyber-attacks that could turn a holiday shopper into a cyber-victim.
So what do you need to do to keep your personal information as safe and secure as possible while scouring the web for the best deals?
Here’s a list of 9 ways to stay one step ahead of holiday hackers.
- Shop from a secure connection
Rather than using the Wi-Fi networks available in public places like airports and coffee shops - where there is no guarantee of internet security and an easy gateway for hackers – do your shopping at home, or at a location where the Wi-Fi network security is password protected. Or at least limit yourself to just “window shopping” on public networks. If a deal’s too good to pass up, shop mobile and complete your purchase over 4G/LTE (turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth first). If you’re making a purchase from a shared computer, use “Private Browsing” or “Incognito” mode to ensure the browser doesn’t retain your sensitive info or save for autocomplete fields later.
- Shop using a secure site
Not all websites are equally secure. Before entering any personal or payment information, make sure to look up at your browser bar. The URL should start with HTTPS, not HTTP. That one letter on the end, S, is the difference between a secure site and unsecured site. Additionally, always look for the lock symbol in your browser address window. A green or locked padlock indicates a secure SSL (secure sockets layer) connection. This means any information you send or get through the site is private, the site has a security certificate, and your browser trusts that certificate.
- If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
Cyber Monday has become known as the biggest online shopping day of the year and features a smorgasbord of incredible, legitimate deals offered by trusted retailers. But cybercriminals will prey on shoppers' desire for the lowest prices and lure them in with fake (and hard to resist) discounts. Watch out especially for shady emails and suspicious text messages promising fantastic savings. These messages could contain links or attachments that lead to scams, phishing sites, or sites distributing malware. Go directly to stores’ websites to verify deals and coupons. When in doubt, many legitimate retailers offering Cyber Monday deals are listed in the National Retail Federation’s list of legitimate retailers.
- Use a credit card, not a debit card for purchases
Credit cards have built-in safeguards to protect you against identity theft. According to the Better Business Bureau, many credit card providers have "zero liability" policies meaning you're off the hook if a bad guy gets their hands on your credit card. Most major financial institutions have also developed fraud monitoring technologies that detect inconsistencies in your spending and will alert you if any transaction seems fishy.
Also, consider using a prepaid gift card from a major retailer like Visa or MasterCard. Prepaid gift cards are not tied to your checking or banking accounts, but can still be conveniently used online, over the phone, and in your favorite stores and restaurants across the country. Or use a ‘middleman’ payment service like PayPal. PayPal offers purchase protections and most major retailers offer a PayPal payment option at checkout.
- Don’t overshare
Keep the amount of personal information that you post online to a minimum. Seemingly common information could prove valuable to an experienced identity thief or cybercriminal. Personal information, such as a birthday, address, or mother’s maiden name is often used as answers to security questions. By posting this information publicly, hackers are more easily able to validate your identity and access your accounts.
- Use unique passwords for every account you have
Poor passwords are often the weakest link in internet security. Good password hygiene is your first line of defense against hackers. Yes, it's a pain to remember all those passwords. But if one is stolen, it’s inevitable that a cybercriminal will try using it to gain access to your accounts on other websites. Need a few password tips? Don’t worry, we have an entire blog that can help you beef up your password before your digital shopping spree.
- Update often
Updating your software is one of the easiest things you can do year-round to protect your personal information. Software updates are released to help improve security and fight constantly new and evolving attacks developed by cybercriminals and hackers. Download the latest updates, software, and patches as soon as they’re available and always back up your data. Security apps, anti-virus and firewall software, and browser extensions that block pop-ups, detect malware, and defend against attacks will give you added protection.
- Review credit-card and bank statements regularly
We know it’s not only the most wonderful time of the year — it’s also the busiest. But take an extra moment to comb over your statements. Make sure every charge and transaction lines up with your purchase history. Should any of these security precautions fail, you'll want to catch and report fraudulent charges as soon as possible.
- Shopping mobile? We have some advice for online shopping on your smartphone, too
- Proactively manage your phone. Regularly review apps’ privacy and security controls to minimize the exposure of your data. Emails and texts that may contain personal information, internet searches, and physical locations, for example, should be wiped off your phone and permanently deleted. Birthday cards and shipping confirmation emails that list your date of birth, home address and other details are easy for hackers to use to authenticate your identity.
- Turn off location services for apps that don’t need it while shopping to minimize the potential personal data that could be compromised.
- Minimize your total number of apps on your phone. Download only the apps you need and then delete any that won’t be useful after the holiday shopping season immediately after using.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for apps that have this added security feature.
- Disable all unnecessary services (e.g., Bluetooth) when not in use.
- Checkout as a guest as often as possible, even if it’s not the most convenient option, to prevent sites from archiving your payment information. If you’re logged into a personal account on a shopping site, be sure to click “no” when asked “Would you like to store this card information for future use?” as an added privacy precaution.
- If you're shopping from a tablet or smartphone, use a trusted vendor's official app, not a web browser. Vendors have more control over their own apps than they do over mobile browsers. These apps offer an extra layer of security by linking directly to your existing accounts — meaning you don’t need to enter a credit card number when you buy something. Your personal data is already securely stored elsewhere. Finally, if you haven’t enabled automatic updates for your apps, make sure you go into the app store and manually do so.
‘Tis the season for cybercrime. Remember that as you shop for the perfect holiday gift, cybercriminals are shopping for you.
This time of year is rife with email spam and scams, deceptive advertising and offers, and criminals lurking to steal information from vulnerable devices and gullible shoppers. Don’t let crooks’ online tricks and phony bargains spoil your fun.
Be skeptical, use common sense, and trust your gut to avoid a “blue” holiday season.
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be able to keep your information and money safe during the most wonderful time of the year.