The Thanksgiving weekend is just right around the corner. While some would still associate the upcoming holiday as time to be spent solely with family and friends, many of us are also excited by the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Last year’s events already broke retail sales records. According to Adobe, 2018 Cyber Monday sales alone topped $7.9 billion. Consumers are also increasingly using their mobile devices to perform transactions. Two billion dollars of the Cyber Monday sales totals came from mobile transactions. Most estimates expect this year’s sales to be even more massive.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals have also recognized the opportunity to make some quick bucks due to the amount of money exchanging hands during this season. Scams in the form of phishing attacks, fraudulent ecommerce websites, and fake apps have exploded in recent seasons. These scams look to steal online shoppers’ financial information or fool buyers into paying for purchases that will never be fulfilled.
Here are six tips that can help you keep yourself safe while shopping online.
1 – Use a secure device
Use your own personal devices to shop online instead of using publicly accessible computers. This way, you can avoid using devices that are infected by malware that can record your account credentials or intercept your payment information. Install an antivirus and antimalware to ensure that your device is free from such malicious software.
Interestingly, you can purchase security solutions at sizable discounts throughout the Thanksgiving holidays. Privacy-oriented solutions like Reason Cybersecurity can help protect your PC against malware like keyloggers and information stealers that scan for and intercept your financial data. It can also secure your webcam and microphone from hackers that try to spy on you using these peripherals. Reason also has a safe browsing plugin that will warn you if the website you’re visiting is fraudulent. Its paid Premium version will be on sale during the holidays at 70 percent off. You may want to include it among your first key purchases in this year’s sales events.
2 – Check your connection
Aside from using a secure device, you should also shop online using a secure Internet connection. Avoid connecting via public Wi-Fi hotspots. But should you find yourself using a public hotspot, make sure that you are connected to a website via secure sockets layer (SSL). SSL connections encrypt the data being transmitted between your computer and the server. To check if you’re connected through SSL protocol, the website URL should read “https” rather than just “http.” Most browsers will also display a “lock” icon beside the address bar to indicate that you are connected through SSL.
Alternatively, you can also use virtual private networks or VPNs to secure your connection. VPNs offer even better encryption than plain SSL especially against man-in-the-middle attacks where hackers can hack Wi-Fi hotspots and routers and intercept data being sent and received through them. Fortunately, like other digital solutions during Black Friday, VPN subscriptions are also put on sale. Popular providers like ExpressVPNtypically offer significant discounts for subscriptions during the sale season.
3 – Shop only at reputable stores and channels
Another way hackers try to dupe consumers is by putting up fake online stores and ecommerce apps. Often, these fake stores would offer products and services at massive discounts which would draw unsuspecting buyers in. Unfortunately for victims, not only will their orders not be fulfilled but their payments and payment information would most likely be stolen.
To avoid these scams, it’s best to shop only at the digital channels of reputable businesses. Bigger online stores and marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart have robust infrastructures that offer customers stronger data protection than other smaller online channels. Just make sure that the app you’re using to shop is the official and legitimate one of the brand itself. Install the apps through your device’s official app store to ensure that they’ve been checked and verified for legitimacy.
4 – Be mindful clicking those links
Marketers will also be bombarding you with campaigns promoting their respective brands during this sale season. You will most likely get a lot of emails from various merchants and marketplaces highlighting their numerous deals. Most of them will include links that, when clicked, will bring you straight to their product pages.
Hackers are well-aware of the effectiveness of these marketing strategies. To exploit this, hackers can cleverly disguise their phishing emails to make them appear as if they come from legitimate sources. When you click on links inside these phishing emails, you’ll likely be redirected to a fake site designed to trick you into giving up your information or fool you into installing malware. So be very mindful of the emails that you open and the links that you click.
5 – Monitor your card and bank statements
Online shopping typically requires you to use cashless payment methods such as using credit or debit cards or transferring funds from your bank account so there’s really no way for you to avoid transmitting your financial information online. This makes it hard to determine if your financial information has been compromised until someone actually tries to use it. Most fraudsters and scammers will “test” if stolen card information works by making small purchases.
Monitor your accounts and statements for any suspicious charges and transactions no matter how small they are. If your bank or card issuer provides the option for you to be notified through text or email every time your card is used, enable the feature. Most card issuers now also have the option to require one-time passwords for every online transaction. Immediately dispute charges and file for chargebacks just in case your card information actually gets used by fraudsters.
6 – Don’t be pressured into buying
One way to keep yourself safe from falling for scams or your data from being stolen by hackers is to skip the sales season entirely. Many consumers fall into the trap of buying during sales even if they have little to no use for the items they’ll be purchasing. Remember that you’d only be saving money if you’ll be able to make full use of your purchase. Don’t be pressured into buy anything if you don’t really want it.
Another way to avoid potential losses is to just buy small ticket items instead. It isn’t uncommon for parcels and packages to get lost somewhere due to the high volume of deliveries that logistics companies and their couriers handle during this season. It’s easier to get refunded for smaller amounts. And, if ever things really go awry and you don’t ever receive your order, you’d only be out for a small amount until the matter gets resolved.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday do provide plenty of real deals for consumers. However, it’s important for you keep in mind that nothing is entirely without risk. Hackers are actively looking for ways to target online shoppers. Pay attention to security when buying things online so you’ll be able to avoid falling victim to these criminals. This way, you may actually maximize the massive discounts that merchants give and get a lot of value from your purchases during this season.
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