Our most favorite time of the year is coming, and many are watching and waiting for deep online discounts. It’s not only you. Experts predict that more than 80% of holiday shopping will be shifted online this year. Cybercriminals can't be happier – more online shopping means more potential victims for them. Follow these simple steps to make your seasonal shopping trouble-free.
- Patch everything - your computer OS, Browser, and applications. (Patching means updating software when popup dialog boxes prompt you to.) You may be redirected to a malicious site while visiting new websites to find a better deal. Malicious websites are always looking for weaknesses in your Operating System or Browser. Do the same on your mobile device. While you’re there, check your apps' permissions to your system functions (email, messages, contacts, camera, photos, calendar, location). Are they what you expected? If they’re not, change them. Amazon won't mind if you turn off its app's location services. If you have an older computer, OS or mobile phone that is no longer under support, don't use it for anything sensitive, including shopping.
- The chances that you will be at Starbucks or the mall are slim. Still, try not to use public Wi-Fi when shopping online. "Public" means open to everyone – you and anyone else sharing the network.
- If you’re buying from a new e-commerce website, create a long, unique passphrase password. If available, set up Multifactor Authentication (MFA). You will be set for life. Use the opportunity to reset the password for the existing sites and set up MFA where available before making any purchases. Incremental progress is always better than no progress.
- Check that security padlock on the website. It’s not as big of a deal as years ago because bad guys are now using "secure” websites, too. Still, you don’t want to enter personal or any other data on a site that isn’t secure.
- Use a credit card for your shopping. Remember, a debit card is attached to your bank account and can lead to an unrecoverable zero balance. You have zero liability for any fraudulent transactions on your credit card. If you carry multiple credit cards, check your original agreements. You may find some cards are better to use for purchases because they offer discounts at participating stores, rewards, or extended product warranties.
- Call your bank. Some card brands will offer extended return policies on top of what merchants may offer. Set up fraud alerts in your online card account ahead of the holidays if you haven't done so yet. Most major brands will offer it. Check your statement more frequently to spot unauthorized transactions
- Be humble giving to online charities. They don't need to know your entire pedigree. Many will try to collect as much personal information as possible, yet, because they’re nonprofits, most will lack basic security.
- Don’t click on an email coupon link. The same deal will be available online. Clicking on the link may lead you to a fraudulent website. If the coupon has a code, copy it, then go to the website and enter it. You’ll get the same discount, but without trouble. Expect an increase in phishing and luring emails that look more authentic than ever.
- Shop at well-known websites and with vetted retailers. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it still is. There will be plenty of legitimate discounts.
- Be aware of the increase in "brushing scams." You probably heard in the last few months about seeds coming from China to random people. This is an example of a brushing scam. Here’s how they work. Let’s say you’re shopping for an elliptical machine and find one that’s 40% cheaper than anywhere else. It's still pricey, but you weigh the risk of ordering from an unknown site and place the $237 order. Three weeks later, you receive a tiny box that contains, to your surprise, a $2 USB charging cable. You call the merchant if there is a number to call and get a recording saying all lines are busy and asking you to leave a message. You call your bank and open the dispute, but the merchant responds to the bank with a tracking number and confirmation that they shipped and delivered precisely what you purchased. Eventually, you may get your money back from the bank, but it may take a while. The summary of the scam? The merchant sells you an expensive item it never intends to ship. They ship you a small substitute for proof of delivery.
Don't let your guard down, and don’t let scams ruin your holiday shopping.