Although it may be hard to believe, the Holiday season is upon us again! While many of us may feel as though we are still recovering from last year’s holidays, most of us have probably already begun preparing and shopping for the upcoming season. With Black Friday shopping reported to be up 7.5% over last year’s record-setting spending, consumers need to be more cautious than ever when shopping online. Here are a few tips to ensure you are being as safe as possible as you search for those unbeatable deals this season:

 

  • Never Click on Links in Emails: Creating look-alike links in emails is one of the oldest tricks in the cyber criminal’s book. Although it may look like a legitimate advertisement email from an online retailer, always double-check embedded links before clicking on them. One way to do this is to simply hover your cursor over the link to preview the page it links to. If the page doesn’t match the link or it ends in a “fishy” text, do not click it! Another method is to simply copy the link location into Google and see what appears in the search. In addition, always be wary of emails asking for personal information.
  • Make Sure Your Computer and Software Are Up-to-Date: Computer and software companies are constantly pushing new updates for their apps, programs, and hardware to patch potential security issues as they arise. Before you begin your shopping search, go into your computer or mobile device’s General Settings section and make sure your device is running the most current version of its operating system. Also, go into your mobile device’s app store (such as Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play Store) and check for updates for your favorite retailers’ apps. This will ensure your device is as protected as possible against cyber-attacks.
  • Always Use a Secure Network: When entering in vulnerable information when shopping online, such as your credit card number, you should always do so over a secure network. Although it may be convenient at times to make purchases over a public or shared Wi-Fi network such as the one at your favorite coffee shop or workplace, these networks may allow scammers to penetrate and access your data as it’s being sent over the internet. It’s always best practice to perform such transaction activities in the safety of your own home’s network.
  • Check for a Secure Site Connection: Another way to protect yourself when shopping online is to ensure you have a secure encrypted connection between your device and the retailer’s website. If you’re using a web browser to do your shopping (such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox), check the website’s URL in the address box. If the URL has an “S” at the end of “http” at the front of the address, this indicates you have established a secure connection. In addition, many web browsers will have a little padlock icon visible in the bar with the URL as a quick way to glance and check your connection. This encryption makes it harder for criminals to access the information that is being sent between your device and the retailer’s website.
  • Use Strong Passwords and MFA: One of the easiest tricks you can employ in online shopping is using strong passwords for your online accounts. We all know that using “1234” as a password is asking for trouble, but many of us are still guilty of doing it. Creating accounts with long passwords that use numbers, symbols, and capital letters is an easy way to make it harder for criminals to access your accounts. Many password managers even have built-in password generators for you to simply copy and paste to use. To make it even harder, consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA) when logging in. Many retailers such as Amazon have built-in MFA that requires you to enter a code sent to you via text message when logging in. While it does take a little more effort to log in, it can notify you if a potential cybercriminal tries to log in using your credentials.
  • Install Antivirus Software: Sometimes, even all of these precautions are not enough to protect us from online threats. Purchasing antivirus software such as McAfee or Kaspersky can help protect you if you accidentally click on a malicious link or enter a suspicious website. With many affordable options available, these programs often also come with other tools included, such as web extensions for your browser for extra help spotting threats, in-depth virus scanners, and protection for your mobile devices as well as your desktop.
  • Research Organizations Before Purchasing or Donating: If you’re considering making a purchase from a retailer you’re not familiar with, it’s always best to research that company before handing over your information. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website is a great tool to help determine an organization’s legitimacy. Also, a quick Google search for the company’s name can also help warn you against dangerous sites. In addition, if you’re considering participating in Giving Tuesday, there are tools on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website to research various non-profit organizations to ensure your money is going towards genuine causes that help.
  • Be Suspicious! As always when navigating the internet, it pays to be careful. Oftentimes, if an advertisement or offer appears too good to be true, it usually is. Use common sense when navigating websites, and never click on something that looks out of place. Grammatical errors and odd-looking email addresses can also be indicators of suspicious activity. This time of year, it pays to be a little paranoid!

 

Shopping online can pose threats to your data’s security, but employing these tips and tricks can help protect you and your family from cyberattacks. If you feel as though you may have been a victim of malicious online activity, you can report it to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency and local law enforcement. We hope this information makes you feel more confident as you enjoy your holiday season. ‘Tis the season to be jolly (and cautious)!