Cyber Monday is Coming – 10 Tips to Protect You and Your Family from Online Shopping Scams
You’re not the only one looking forward to the big holiday sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Hackers are too. As people flock to retailers big and small in search of the best deals online, hackers have their shopping scams ready.
So while you already know how to spot a great deal, here are ways you and your family can steer clear of online scams so you can keep your finances safer this shopping season:
1.) Don’t open email attachments from retailers and shippers
A common scam hackers use is introducing malware via email attachments, and during the holiday sale season, they’ll often send malware under the guise of offer emails and shipping notifications. Know that retailers and shipping companies won’t send things like offers, promo codes, and tracking numbers in attachments. They’ll clearly call those things out in the body of an email instead.
2) Carefully review links and email addresses
A classic scammer move is to “typosquat” phony email addresses and URLs that look awfully close to legitimate addresses of legitimate companies and retailers. They often appear in phishing emails and instead of leading you to a great deal, these can in fact link you to scam sites that can then lift your login credentials, payment info, or even funds should you try to place an order through them.
3) Watch out for copycat deals and sites
A related scammer trick that also uses typosquatting tactics is to set up sites that look like they could be run by a trusted retailer or brand but are not. These sits may tout a special offer, a great deal on a hot holiday item or whatnot, yet such sites are one more way cybercriminals harvest personal and financial information. A common way for these sites to spread is by social media, email, and other messaging platforms. Be skeptical of any links you see there—it’s best to go to the site directly and look for the deal there.
4) Use protection while you shop
Using a complete security software suite can offer layers of extra protection while you shop, such as web browser protection that will block malicious and suspicious links that could lead you down the road to malware or a financial scam.
5) Diversify and protect your passwords
Using the same narrow set of passwords only helps hackers. If they hack one account, they can then hack others—simply because that same password is in use over and over. Use a password manager that can create strong passwords and store them securely as well. That’ll save you some hassle and keep you safer in the process.
6) Use two-factor authentication on your accounts
Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of defense on top of your username and password. It adds in the use of a special one-time-use code to access your account, usually sent to you via email or to your phone by text or a phone call. In all, it combines something you know, like your password, with something you have, like your smartphone. Together, that makes it tougher for a crook to hack your account. If any of your accounts support two-factor authentication, put it into place.
7) Use a VPN if you’re shopping on public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi in coffee shops and other public locations can expose your private surfing to prying eyes because those networks are open to all. Using a virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your browsing, shopping, and other internet traffic, thus making it secure from attempts at intercepting your data on public Wi-Fi and harvesting information like your passwords and credit card numbers.
8) Use a credit card instead of your debit card
Specific to the U.S., the Fair Credit Billing Act offers the public protection against fraudulent charges on credit cards, where citizens can dispute charges over $50 for goods and services that were never delivered or otherwise billed incorrectly. Note that many credit card companies have their own policies that improve upon the Fair Credit Billing Act as well. However, debit cards aren’t afforded the same protection under the Act. Avoid using those while shopping online and use your credit card instead.
9) Consider getting a virtual credit card
Another alternative is to set up a virtual credit card, which is a proxy for your actual credit card. With each purchase you make, that proxy changes, which then makes it much more difficult for hackers to exploit. You’ll want to research virtual credit cards further, as there are some possible cons that go along with the pros, such as in the case of returns where a retailer will want to use the same proxy to reimburse a purchase.
10) Keep a close eye on your credit reports
With all the passwords and accounts we keep, this is important. Checking your credit will uncover any inconsistencies or outright instances of fraud. From there, you can then take steps to straighten out any errors or bad charges that you find. In the U.S., you can run a free credit report once a year with the major credit reporting agencies. Just drop by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website for details on your free credit report.
Shop happy! (Don’t give in to stress and scarcity.)
One aspect of cybercrime that deserves a fair share of attention is the human element. Crooks have always played on our feelings, fears, and misplaced senses of trust. It’s no different online, particularly during the holidays. We all know it can be a stressful time and that we sometimes give into the pressure of finding that hard-to-get gift that’s so hot this year. Crooks do too, and they’ll tailor their attacks around those.
So, while you’re shopping online this year, take a deep breath before you dive in. Double-check those deals that may look almost too good to be true. They may be a scam waiting to spring—and indeed be too good to be true after all.