It’s officially the most wonderful time of the year — no doubt about it. But each year, as our reliance and agility on our mobile devices increases, so too might our impulsivity and even inattention when it comes to digital transactions.
Before getting caught up in the whirlwind of gift giving and the thrill of the perfect purchase, consider taking a small pause. Stop to consider that as giddy as you may be to find that perfect gift, hackers are just as giddy this time of year to catch shoppers unaware and snatch what they can from the deep, digital holiday coffers. In fact, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the number one cybercrime of 2017 was related to online shopping; specifically, payment for or non-delivery of goods purchased.
8 Ways to Secure Your Family’s Holiday Shopping Online
- Make it a family discussion. Make no assumptions when it comes to what your kids do and do not understand (and practice) when it comes to shopping safely online. Go over the points below as a family. Because kids are nearly 100% mobile, online shopping and transactions can move swiftly, and the chances of making a mistake or falling prey to a scam can increase. Caution kids to slow down and examine every website and link in the buying journey.
- Beware of malicious links. The most common forms of fraud and cyber attacks are phishing scams and socially-engineered malware. Check links before you click them and consider using McAfee® WebAdvisor, a free download that safeguards you from malware and phishing attempts while you surf — without impacting your browsing performance.
- Don’t shop on unsecured wi-fi. Most public networks don’t encrypt transmitted data, which makes all your online activity on public wi-fi vulnerable to hackers. Resist shopping on an unsecured wireless network (at a coffee shop, library, airport). Instead, do all of your online shopping from your secure home computer. If you have to conduct transactions on a public Wi-Fi connection use a virtual private network (VPN) such as McAfee® SafeConnect to maintain a secure connection in public places. To be sure your home network is safe, secure your router.
- Is that site legit? Before purchasing a product online, check the URL carefully. If the address bar says “HTTP” instead of “HTTPS” in its URL, do not purchase from the site. As of July 2018, unsecured sites now include a “Not Secure” warning, which is very helpful to shoppers. Also, an icon of a locked padlock will appear to the left of the URL in the address bar or the status bar down below depending on your browser. Cybercriminals can make a fake site look very close to the real thing. One added step: Google the site if anything feels wrong about it, and you may find some unlucky consumers sharing their stories.
- Review bills closely. Review your credit card statements in January and February, when your holiday purchases will show up. Credit cards offer better fraud protection than debit. So, if you’re shopping online during the holidays, give yourself an extra layer of protection from scams by using a credit card. Think about using the same card between family members to make checking your bill easier.
- Create new, strong passwords. If you are getting ready to do a lot of shopping online, it’s a great time to update your passwords. Download a free password manager, which auto-saves and enters your passwords, so you don’t have to. The True Key app protects your passwords by scrambling them with AES-256, one of the most robust encryption algorithms available.
- Verify charities. One of the best things about the holidays is the spirit of giving. Hackers and crooks know this and are working hard to trick innocent givers. This reality means that some seasonal charities may be well-devised scams. Before you donate, be sure to do a little research. Look at the website’s URL; it’s design, its security badges. Google the charity and see if any scams have been reported.
- Protect your data from third parties. Sites may contain “third parties,” which are other embedded websites your browser talks to such as advertisers, website analytics engines, that can watch your browsing behavior. To protect your data when shopping and get rid of third-party access, you need to wipe your cookies (data trackers) clean using your settings, then change your browser settings (choose “block third-party cookies and site data”) to make sure the cookies can’t track your buying behavior. You can also go into your settings and direct your browser to shop in private or incognito mode.
No one is immune to holiday scams. Many scams are intricately designed and executed so that even the savviest consumer is duped. You can enjoy the shopping that comes with the holidays by keeping these few safety precautions in mind. Don’t let your emotional desire for that perfect gift override your reasoning skills. Listen to your intuition when it comes to suspicious websites, offers, emails, pop-up ads, and apps. Pause. Analyze. And make sure you are purchasing from a legitimate site.
Stay safe and WIN: Now that you’ve read about safe shopping basics, head over to our Protect What Matters site. If you successfully complete the Holiday Online Shopping Adventure quiz, you can enter your email address for the chance to win a tech prize pack with some of this season’s hottest smart gadgets. Have fun, and stay safe online this holiday season!