As we near another frenzied holiday season, online retailers scramble to build up their inventories and launch amazing deals for online shoppers. At the same time, hackers come up with their own creative and novel ways to compromise our personal information and steal our digital identities. But don’t despair this shopping season as you can still snag those great bargains online while staying safe by keeping these top ten tips in mind:
Tip 1: Have a dedicated credit card that you only use for online shopping. Think of it like a burner email account that mostly collects spam. This approach also makes organizing purchases and monitoring statements easy. Do not use a debit card for online shopping because if your debit card is compromised, the money comes immediately out of your account just like someone talking cash out of your wallet. Getting stolen debit card funds back is always more challenging, and your liability is higher than when using a credit card.
Tip 2: Do not use public free WiFi to shop online. Mobile phone usage for shopping is at an all time high so free public WiFi hotspots are tempting. But hackers will exploit this by posing as legitimate, free WiFi to gain access to your mobile device. You are better off waiting until you are home and using your own trusted secure WiFi network.
Tip 3: Don’t be so quick to click. Hackers know that Cyber Monday holiday shoppers like to jump on a good deal before stock runs low or the insane savings expire. All this rushing can lead to careless cybersecurity practices. Pop-up adds and emails promising great values lure unsuspecting users to click on links and attachments (referred to as phishing attacks). Many of these ads and attachments look convincing, but they are simply an easy way to get malware or spyware onto your computer.
Tip 4: Update your computer software. Make sure all your apps, operating system and browser are up to date with the latest security protections in place.
Tip 5: Create long and strong passwords unique to each online site. I recommend at least 12 characters including upper/lower case/numbers/symbols. If it’s hard to remember, you probably have a strong password. Use a password manager such as Dashlane to help manage all those strong and unique passwords you have created. Never re-use the same password across multiple sites because you will only make the hacker’s job that much easier.
Tip 6: Utilize multi-factor authentication when it is available. Many online retailers provide multi-factor (or two-factor) authentication for free. Yes, it takes slightly longer but provides an added layer of security when you are required to verify your identity. Typically you are prompted to enter a temporary code that is emailed or sent via text.
Tip 7: Do not store you credit card online. Sure it is simple, but do not confuse simplicity for security. Remember all those security breaches in the news from this past year? They all involved servers that stored vulnerable credit card data that was stored.
Tip 8: Utilize good anti-virus and anti-malware detection software. Most anti-virus software will stop viruses and malware (approx 20% of common threats), but it is important that you regularly perform the security updates to stop newly emerging threats that surface every day.
Tip 9: Only shop on trusted sites. Let’s face it, no websites are 100% safe, but statistically you are far safer shopping at well known online shopping sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, etc. than some website that you never heard of but offering a great deal.
Tip 10: If it is too good to be true it probably isn’t too good or true. Be careful of deep discounts or amazing deals that seem impossibly great. Hackers and spammers are looking to keep you focused on a great deal without noticing their fake website, poor security and bad customer service history.
Convenience and security will always have to strike a balance. If we cautiously approach online shopping with tips like these, we can still land some great deals without risking our personal information.
These tips can also be found on the Wendy Williams Show website