Six tips for safer holiday shopping in 2019

In 2019, shopping online has become a minefield of malware. In fact, according to Symantec almost 7 in 10 adults worldwide have experienced the dark side of cybercrime. In this holiday shopping season, our cybersecurity experts have packaged our top six shopping tips for staying safer online.

1. Think outside the box – treat all delivery-related updates as suspicious.

We all know package thieves love porches. They’re watching your boxes, but digital thieves are after your data. Be wary of text messages or emails saying things like “there is a problem with your shipment” or “problem with your order” and prompting you to click a link embedded in the message. Once clicked, the next page may ask for your password or personal data (the real prize) or the link can secretly infect your device with malware (phones are especially vulnerable). Common phishing scams are good at looking like they are from UPS, FedEx or the postal service.

Also, it’s a good idea to up the frequencies of security alerts for your video doorbell so you get more data on who’s around your home during doorstep-shopping season.

2. SPAM, interrupted – create a unique email account for e-comm.

Keep one dedicated email account that you use for e-commerce. The email address will get sold and re-sold. That way you can direct everything unwanted or SPAM-flavored to this unique email address to keep your primary inbox clean.

3. Stranger danger – don’t trust strange websites.

In the race to get the best deals online, stop and inspect the deals you click even when you’re visiting a trusted website. Many people don’t know that fake offers and fake ads lurk even on legitimate websites. These are from third parties, not the hosting site. Clicking the wrong thing can swiftly put an end to your holiday cheer. Think twice if an offer asks for payment through non-mainstream, non-trusted sites or asks you to login to your bank or email to complete a payment.

Also, steer clear from sites that require you to install software in order to get the deal. Any legitimate coupon app will be available for download via the Apple Store or Google Play Store. Never download software from non-app store sites.

4. Insta-grinch – beware social media.

Sure, we all know Instagram has the best tee-shirts. But it’s so easy for anyone to set up shop on social media that you should view every link with suspicion. Ads on social media for holiday deals could potentially be phishing links that redirect to malicious websites. Also, make sure your browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari) is up to date. This can help protect against known vulnerabilities that an attacker may leverage on a maliciously crafted website that has alleged holiday deals.

5. Paypal Only? Nope – how you pay counts.

If a company only accepts PayPal, Venmo, or BitCoin, proceed with caution. Particularly if a holiday deal is only obtainable via Bitcoin, it may be in your best interest to skip it. While Bitcoin is a legitimate way of transmitting money, most online retailers aren’t actively accepting Bitcoin payments and there is no Bitcoin fraud protection.

6. Credit, not Debit – use your credit card to guarantee your purchases.

Use a credit card when you make holiday purchases. Credit cards have more protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act so disputing fraudulent charges is a smoother process. Additionally, you’re only on the hook for up to $50 when fraudulent charges occur on your credit card. Fraud protection for debit cards is not always as robust or easy to navigate when compared with a credit card. You may run into problems when disputing charges on a debit card and it can possibly take longer to resolve—and the disputed amount is frequently frozen while in dispute.

Also, don’t store your credit card on websites. Instead, store them in a password manager (e.g. LastPass, Dashlane) for easy use with “form fill/autofill.” This can help protect your credit card number in the event that the website’s servers are compromised.

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