Here’s how to stay safe when shopping online, during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond.
It’s official – more than half the country did their holiday shopping online last year, and that number will only climb higher this year. How can you beat the convenience? Forget driving across town to hit different stores, and don’t get me started on the parking hassles. You can find the exact items you want without suffering through crowded escalator rides. Find the best online deals, and take care of everyone on your list in the time it takes to drink a glass of wine.
Most people love this wonderful 21st-century way of shopping; the only downside is that cybercriminals KNOW people love it. Every year brings new opportunities for these grinches to hatch their latest schemes to redirect your holiday cash right into their pockets.
The good news is that beating them only takes vigilance. Learn and live these seven tips as you roll your virtual shopping cart through the biggest department store in the world—the internet.
1. Protect your system
Sure, you are free to do your holiday shopping online wearing nothing but your long-johns, but your computer should be sporting its best protection. If you’re one of those holdouts that still haven’t installed antivirus software, this is the perfect occasion to make the jump to online security. Strong AV software blocks malware attacks so you can stay focused on the tasks at hand. Good protection doesn’t have to cost a dime—download a free antivirus now and save your money to buy more gifts!
2. Stay private – especially in public
While we advise never to do any online shopping or banking over public Wi-Fi, sometimes it’s required in order to keep up with the crazy holiday pace. In these instances, VPNs are a good choice for layered security—particularly essential for any online activity over public Wi-Fi. Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) will protect all your online communications and data transfers (such as logins and credit card numbers). It works no matter how you connect, be it with your phone, tablet, or laptop. Watch the Quick Tips video below for more info.
3. Only shop secure sites
Cybercriminals have grown sophisticated enough to pose as major brands and successfully fool people into handing over their personal data. Avoid these tricks by double-checking you’re on the site you actually want to be on. Make sure the spelling is correct, for example “bloomingdales.com” not “bloomingdale.com,” and check that the logo and colors look right. Additionally, look at your browser’s address bar to confirm you are on a secure site. Reputable ecommerce sites will always use Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to protect the transaction, which is denoted by a URL that begins with HTTPS (as opposed to just HTTP). If the “S” is not present, get out of there and shop on a website that has it. Be sure to look for the lock icon and the word “Secure” to the left of the URL to reconfirm that the site is secure. In fact, it’s safe to recommend that you always look for HTTPS on every site you visit.
4. Check out as a guest
Many online retail sites ask you to register before ringing up everything in your shopping cart. This is to get your email address for future offers, and most of the time these registrations are optional. Stay in “guest” mode as often as you can when shopping online. The less of your personal info that is floating out on the net, the less likely it is that it’ll be stolen in a data breach. After all, legitimate shopping sites should only really need your credit card, and your billing and shipping addresses. So if they are asking for things like date of birth, social security number, etc., BE WARY. Also, once you’ve input your payment details, select the option to NOT store that data.
5. Use a third-party pay site
PayPal, ApplePay, and AndroidPay are some examples of third-party sites that can serve as your virtual debit card. Using services like these will keep you from having to enter, re-enter, and re-enter yet again your credit card numbers throughout your shopping spree. They don’t share your payment info, so you’re much more in control of who has access to that data.
6. Limit thyself
If you do choose to use your credit card instead of a third-party site, use a card with a credit limit. That way, if your payment details are compromised, the damage will be as limited as the card is. Better yet, use a card you’ve earmarked for holiday shopping only. A quick look at the card’s statement will show you if anything’s amiss.
7. Stay up-to-date
The world of cybercrime is changing moment by moment. Staying on top of it is possible, but only if you stay current with each software update as they become available. Both Apple and Windows are continually issuing updates and security patches to fight the prevailing threats. Don’t have updatephobia—these new installs are good for you! Keeping your system current is keeping it as strong as it needs to be.
A big part of making sure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is simply managing it with care. Keep the above tips in mind as you work your way down your Naughty and Nice list. Install a strong AV product like Avast Free Antivirus, and use a protective virtual private network like Avast SecureLine VPN. Then pour yourself that glass of red and shop while you protect your green. Cheers!