In anticipation of a greater holiday season this year, many retailers are now kicking off their sales a few days early. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend about 4.1 percent more this holiday season than last.
Unfortunately, it’s not just retailers who will be using unbelievable offers to lure consumers into parting with their hard-earned cash on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Mobile Tuesday or in the days that precede them. Cybercriminals are also hard at work to offer the most enticing online scams. And if you don’t take the necessary online precautions, your holiday cheer could come to a screeching halt.
Whether you end up shopping now or later, you’ll want to check this list of recommendations that can help you stay clear of some typical and not so typical holiday security threats.
- Make sure it’s the real deal. Use caution when clicking on links in emails from retailers for offers, even if they appear to be from a big brand company. Malicious links could exploit your computer with malware or take you to a phishing site designed to steal your information. One way to determine the legitimacy of an offer or deal is to simply go directly to the company’s website.
- Only shop from secure sites. When paying online, verify that you are on an SSL secured site (the Web address will start with https:// and have a little padlock icon next to it). Websites that are SSL secured will encrypt sensitive information, such as credit card numbers during the transaction. You can also click on the padlock icon to verify the identity of the certificate owner.
- Look for third-party seals of approval. It’s best to buy from reputable online sites. If you see a Better Business Bureau or TRUSTe symbol, it means the site must adhere to certain standards regarding business practices and personal information.
- Don’t fall for phony holiday sweepstakes. Don’t respond to emails or text messages, claiming that you have won a contest or sweepstakes that you never entered. Though these types of phishing scams are commonly distributed by email, they are now infiltrating mobile phones. Called smishing, these text message scams, requesting you text a 5 digit code to a specific mobile keyword, could lead to unwanted SMS fees and subscription costs. Simply delete the text message.
- Update your browser. Make sure your browser is updated with the latest version. This will help prevent cybercriminals from taking advantage of vulnerabilities in older versions of your browser during the holiday shopping season. Although it is inconvenient, you may consider disabling Java as an option too. The program is battling a slew of security vulnerabilities. This will sacrifice some websites’ functionality, but it will prevent potential drive-by download attacks that could infect your PC.
- Use virtual credit cards. Consider using “virtual credit cards” for online shopping instead of your actual every day credit or debit card. These are temporary or disposable digits that are issued by banks or credit card companies for free or a small fee. Virtual credit cards are usually one-time use only or have a limited amount on them, so if a cybercriminal gets ahold of this number, your actual bank account is not at risk.
- Set up a separate email. Many retail sites require an email address to set up an account, login, and make purchases. Set up and use a separate email account for your holiday shopping. This can help reduce spam and phishing attacks on your personal, every-day use email account. And, it lowers the risk of your personal information getting stolen.
- Update your security software.. As always, make sure your security software is running and up-to-date. There are a wide variety of free security solutions out there from which to choose. At a minimum, pick a solution that has antivirus and a two-way firewall. Without minimum protection, you leave yourself more vulnerable to online attacks.
If you do encounter fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission and submit a complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov.
Bottom line: cybercriminals will always try to exploit the holiday season and target Internet users. But by following a few simple precautions and trusting your gut, you’ll be well-prepared to take advantage of online sales on all sorts of fun merchandise this year. Happy Shopping!