If you staying home this Black Friday weekend, opting instead for online shopping, you’re likely avoiding the mobs of shoppers and keeping yourself safe from flying elbows and possibly getting trampled in the crowds.But for the growing number of people who prefer to shop on Cyber Monday rather than face the crowds at the mall, be warned; shopping online isn’t entirely safe, either.
With so much money exchanging virtual hands, and the growing threat of cyber crime, it’s important to take precautions. In the first 18 days of this November, online spending surpassed last year’s figure for the same number of days by 16% — reaching $10.1 billion in online transactions alone, according to research by comScore. If this is any indiction of how Cyber Monday online transactions will be, it’s safe to say shoppers should be extra aware of online threats. Mobile shoppers should be wary, too — mobile shopping has increased by 300% in the last year, making protection against viruses and malware key for safe shopping from your device.
“As more people decide to take their shopping experiences online this weekend thinking they’ll avoid the perils of mobs and lines, they should be aware that there is always the chance that they could be leaving themselves open for an attack on their lives through cyberspace,” said George Otte, CEO and founder of Geeks on Site. “In order to minimize the dangers of being hacked or becoming the victim of identity theft there are some precautions that are paramount for safety.”
There are a number of things you can do to ensure your safety when you shop online.
- Make sure your antivirus and malware protection software is up to date. Also check to see if you have a firewall installed on your computer.
- Update your browser. “When shopping online, make sure to use the latest brand named browser available for your system, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer, as the latest versions of each have increased safeguards to prevent adware, spyware, and phishing attempts,” said Otte. “Having an updated antivirus or anti-malware is essential when preventing fraud. Both the browsers, as well as approved antivirus programs offer some type of verification of websites, making sure they are the original site and not a spoofed one.”
- Don’t click unknown links in your email. “Most phishing attacks will try to scam shoppers with an email that presents some sort of incredible, cant-be-beat deal,” said Brian Jacobs, senior product manager at Ipswitch’s Network Management Division. “If you’re skeptical of an offer or email, go directly to the retailer’s website to confirm the offer, and don’t click the email link.”
- Don’t use public computers and unsecured wireless connections — shop at home if you can. Computer expert Otte explains, “public LANs and Wi-Fi networks, such as libraries, cyber-cafes, airports or even work computers, could be compromised with malware. Hackers also have access to these networks, and could be tapping into them to get your personal information. Always do your online shopping from network secured with a WEP or WPA password.” Also, “never save your credit card information online in case you get hacked — then it’s open season on your personal info.”
- Shop only on encrypted sites, advises GreenDot, a leading provider of prepaid phone cards. Websites that begin with “https” are encrypted, rather than just “http.” This means the site allows for secure transactions.
- Save or print all payment confirmations. Michael Brim, founder of BFAds.net, tells Mashable, “During Black Friday and Cyber Monday, stores can often get overloaded with orders that may impact their ability to process payment and order confirmations. Sometimes during these sales, your order can go through, you close the confirmation window and never receive an email confirmation. The order may also not show up in your order history on the merchant’s site. Printing these order confirmations allows one to have written history of their shopping expenditures. That way, if your order never shows it was processed in the site, you can counter with proof of your order and can sometimes get it processed retroactively – regardless if the sale is now over or if your product is out-of-stock.”
- Use your credit card, not your debit card. Debit cards are directly linked to your bank account. Since credit cards let you use borrowed money from the card provider, if someone steals your card you have more protection. Just contact the card provider and dispute the charge. With debit cards, that can be more difficult to do. And get a new credit and/or debit card one-to-two times per year and change the pin numbers, advises Scott Olson, VP of product at iovation, an online fraud prevention company. You should also monitor your bank statements for unauthorized transactions.
- Update your passwords frequently. Use at least eight characters and a combination of numbers, letters and symbols from strong passwords. Don’t use any of the most common passwords.