Published: November 30, 2021 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.
At a time when coronavirus is at its worst in the U.S., more shopping of all types is happening online this year than ever before. In fact, according to a recent survey by CreditCards.com, 70% of Americans will do just that. Last year saw just 51% of shoppers using online stores for holiday gifts, but shopping online for everything is on the rise. Cybercrime is already at historic rates thanks to coronavirus-themed hacks, so make the choice to shop smart as long as we're all sheltering-in-place.
If it Smells Phishy, Throw it Back
Remember, deals that look too good to be true probably are. Whether it’s by email, text, or phone, scammers lure victims with all sorts of tactics. Any message that elicits a response, be it a great deal, a package held up from delivery, or winning a $50 gift card, it’s a hacker’s calling card. No topic is safe, so approach any and all messages with a healthy dose of skepticism and a lot of scrutiny. Don’t open email attachments or follow links you are not confident are safe; they’re setups for malware and identity theft. Typo’s and bad grammar are sure signs of a scam, as are messages from your bank or others saying your account needs attention right now! Always type in the true website yourself and from there you’ll find if the messages (and bargains) are for real.
Don’t Shop with Your Debit Card
Use a credit card for purchases whenever possible. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that debit cards don’t have the same level of protection as credit cards, and transactions are processed much faster than those using credit. If a credit card is used without your permission, you may only be liable for up to $50, something debit cards don’t do. Debit cards also provide a direct link to your bank account, where massive financial damage can be done in the wrong hands. If you don’t have a credit card, consider using a pre-paid debit card, PayPal, or other like services for online shopping.
Don’t Store Financial Data on Websites and Shop as a Guest
Although saving credit card data on your account is much easier than entering your card number for every purchase, it’s not worth the risk. Remember that any information stored online is vulnerable to hacking or a data breach, so keep your financial footprint to a minimum. Consider using a third-party payment app like PayPal, Apple Pay, or Venmo. Shopping as a guest is recommended because the less information you provide about yourself, the better. If you need to create an account to get a deal, delete it after your purchase.
Protect Your Passwords and They’ll Protect You
By now, most users know that strong and unique passwords can keep the cyber riffraff away. It’s especially important with holiday shopping that all of your accounts are password protected. The more diverse the password, the more difficult it is to hack. In fact, once your shopping is done, resetting account passwords (especially with large retailers) is a great online security tool. Should a store suffer a data breach, unique passwords can help keep hackers from accessing other accounts using the same password. It’s a crime that’s waiting to happen 24/7 and 365 days a year. Consider using a password manager for your accounts if there are just too many to remember.
Choose Your Shopping Device Carefully
Be it a computer, tablet, or smartphone used for shopping, they should be protected by a VPN (virtual private network) and antivirus software. VPNs provide a secure portal for your information to travel the holiday shopping highway safely and keep hackers away from your sensitive data. Never use public Wi-Fi without a VPN, no matter how great that flash sale may be, especially since the sale could be a hacker hoax. There’s no shortage of bad actors sitting on public Wi-Fi, waiting for a victim to take the bait. Use your home computer for shopping whenever possible, and using a smartphone to shop should never be done without a VPN. And keep antivirus software updated at all times.
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