The biggest online shopping day of the year, aka Cyber Monday, is just hours away. Sitting here in Costa Rica, many of us with friends and family in other parts of the world do a lot of holiday shopping online. This is the time of year to be extra careful when visiting ecommerce websites.
Bari Abdul is Vice President of Check Point‘s Consumer Business, ZoneAlarm, focused on innovating consumer security for the digital age. He has over 20 years of experience developing and executing go-to-market strategies that deliver record revenue and market share.
According to Forrester Research, online shopping this holiday season is expected to generate almost $59.5 billion. And 90% of consumers will shop online, according to PriceGrabber’s winter holiday shopping survey. This increased traffic turns the virtual marketplace into a winter wonderland for hackers, who are gearing up to swipe credit cards and personal information to commit fraud and identify theft.
Follow these 10 tips to protect yourself while shopping online.
1. Install, update and activate your security software
At a minimum, use a firewall and antivirus software to protect you from malware that gives cybercriminals easy entrance into your computer and accounts. There are many free options. If you only use antivirus, be sure to add a two-way firewall to block hackers from entering your computer and using it to send out attacks and spam.
2. Use strong, unique passwords
Always create strong passwords (read: not these lame ones) for all online accounts and include letters, numbers and symbols. Longer passwords are more secure and harder to crack. Hackers employ special password-cracking software to guess their way into your accounts. Avoid using the same password for every account — it makes it easier for hackers.
3. Only connect to legitimate Wi-Fi networks
Before you connect to a network and start shopping online, verify that the Wi-Fi network name (SSID) you are connecting to is from a legitimate service. Do not connect to random, unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It increases your security risks.
4. Make sure it’s the real site
Scammers often target users through phishing on email and social media. These messages include a link or popup that encourages you to click on it for “special deals” or to verify some sort of information from a seller or courier, such as FedEx and UPS. The site may look similar to a real site, such as Amazon.com, but is actually a trap meant to steal your login or financial information. When shopping online, do not click links. Instead, access a legitimate company’s website by typing the company’s information directly into the web browser. And never enter personal information on a popup screen — this is another way for thieves to steal personal information.
5.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.
6. Look for third-party seals of approval
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.
7. Beware of deals that are too good to be true
The holiday season means some goods and gift cards are hot properties on the market, and cybercriminals will exploit consumers trying to get their hands on them. For example, one known Facebook scam promotes a free $1,000 Wal-Mart gift card. But you must first share the link with your friends and take a survey, which collects personal information. You are then re-routed to a seemingly legitimate website that requires you to participate in various promotions and purchase subscriptions, fees or products — all are ploys to get your banking and personal information. Stick to legitimate retailers and avoid these types of gimmicks.
8. Use a dummy email account
Many sites require accounts/email logins to use. If you set up an additional email account to be used only for marketing, newsletters or online shopping, your personal correspondence and information won’t be at risk (and you won’t get as much unwanted spam).
9. Use a credit card
Shopping with a debit card online puts your checking and savings account at risk if the information is stolen. Credit cards offer protections that debit cards don’t, and you can dispute charges if needed. Some banks also offer virtual credit card numbers to use. These are temporary credit card numbers with an expiration date and a purchase maximum, which can be very useful for some transactions.
10. Read privacy agreements
If you don’t want to increase the chances of your information being accessed online, keep an eye out for websites that sell your information to third parties. Carefully review all privacy agreements and decide for yourself whether you’re willing to click “Agree.”
If you do encounter fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission and submit a complaint form on the FTC website.
Bottom line: The holiday shopping season means more security threats. If you follow these tips, take the proper precautions and trust your gut, you will greatly decrease your chances of being scammed by hackers.
Happy Cyber Monday!