Stay Safe While Shopping Online This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is not just a time to feast with family and friends any longer as Black Friday has poured over into the holiday preceding it, with some stores opening their doors for shopping as early as 3pm on Thursday, when most of us want to be eating some pumpkin pie. While Black Friday shoppers have already waited in lines overnight, approximately 50% of people are doing some part, if not all, of their Christmas shopping online, and this year it is expected that 13.3% more people will participate in online shopping than ever before. With Cyber Monday coming up on November 28th, there are sure to be millions of consumers purchasing gifts for their loved ones for the holiday season, but as the number of people shopping via the Internet grows, there comes an almost equal increase of cyber attacks as well.

While there are many cyber-crimes out there this time of year including phishing email scams and ransomware attempts, there are many precautions you can take in order to help prevent your information from being stolen. Here are some tips, some of which are also included in a previous Axiom blog post written by Shannon Wilkinson, on how to stay safe while shopping this holiday season:

1) Use credit cards instead of debit cards

We all remember the credit card hack that hit Target in 2013, and while it was detrimental to many shoppers of the massive chain, it did highlight the importance of being secure in your payment method. One very common recommendation I’ve seen to help avoid against significant financial distress if your information were to be compromised in a similar attack is to use your credit card. If your credit card data is used for something malicious without your knowledge, it’s easier to resolve issues with a credit card company than with your bank, so avoid using debit cards as much as you can. When in doubt, cash is always the safest bet.

If you do use one of your cards, take advantage of the possible updates you can receive, that way you can stay up to date on all of your account’s financial activity.

2) Be wary of ‘too good to be true’ deals, they probably are

A common tactic used by cyber-criminals is to lure you to their nefarious websites with deals that appear to be too good to be true. While most of us are aware of this, it is important to keep this in mind during the holiday season when searching for that one gift your loved one just can’t live without. If a deal seems too good to be true or you haven’t seen or heard of it being advertised elsewhere, it is likely, and unfortunately, a scam.

3) Only shop at retailers you know

By only purchasing items from retailers whose brands you recognize, such as Amazon or Best Buy, you can lessen the chance of your data being involved in a scam, as these big name stores likely have better cyber defenses that of less recognizable companies.

No matter which site you use, look for the secure ‘https’ and a lock symbol next to the link in your web browser, as these indicate that any purchase transacted on a particular website is secure. If you do deviate from known websites, take some time to research the validity of these sites to protect your information.

4) Do not give out any extra information

When signing up for a rewards card to add to your holiday shopping savings or giving your information to be entered to win a grand prize, never give out more information than is necessary. No company needs your social security number or other extremely personal information, so if they request it, do not provide it to them.

5) Keep your devices up-to-date

The first step to making sure that you are secure is to make sure that both your mobile (Phones, Tablets, etc) and computer are up-to-date with the latest patches to the operating systems and security software.

6) Be educated on cyber-crimes

Quite possibly the biggest cyber-crime that affects people around this time of year is phishing. Many people, especially after buying something from an online vendor, receive an malicious email. In these cases, customers might receive an email stating that their payment did not go through and their information needs to be re-entered in order to process the order. This is often times a cyber-criminal trying to get you to enter in your credit card information directly to their database. If you receive such an email, contact the company directly to find out if there is actually a legitimate issue with your order and to notify them of the scheme. This and many other fictitious emails have been flooding inboxes recently, so as consumers, we must be hyper-vigilant in protecting our data.

7) Stay updated on current threats

The best way to avoid a scam is to be knowledgeable about current cyber crimes threatening consumers such as yourself. A simple Google News search of ‘current holiday cyber attacks’ can keep you in the loop as to which scams you need to look out for. Likewise, if you find that you are the victim of a cyber crime, tell someone who can do something about it, such as the company who appears to be sending you legitimate information of their fake counterpart, in order to prevent others from being targeted. We are our best resources in the fight against online shopping criminals

While this season may be hectic at times, it is meant to be a time of happiness; avoiding malicious cyber attacks is extremely important in keeping your season full of cheer. Take these precautions to stay safe and if you feel unsure about a website or an email, trust your gut and don’t use that site.

Hailey Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 11/25/2016