Safe Cyber Holiday Shopping

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and with the big day getting closer by the second, we all know that one of the fastest ways to get our holiday shopping done is online from our computers, tablets and smart phones.

In fact, retailers are planning on it. A recent report by IHS Global Insight, a research-and-services firm that tracks retail trends, indicated $1 out of every $7 spent on holiday shopping will be done online this year and retailers have shifted many of their holiday promotions online to make cyber shopping even more enticing.

But that doesn’t come without risks – risks you can mitigate with some proper planning and best practices.

Watch where you click.

As Heather Engel, Executive Vice President at Sera-Brynn recently cautioned in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article, shoppers should be cautious about links they click online promising hot deals, especially on unfamiliar sites.

“Criminals will try to harvest information through links like that,” Engel said. “Sometimes you don’t even have to do anything once you’ve clicked the link. The hacker pushes malware through the connection, and your computer or mobile device is infected.”

Shop only on reputable sites you are familiar with. Ensure the web address begins with HTTPS. URL’s ending in S means they have a security certificate.

Stick with sites you know and use your best judgment.

Ensure your software is up to date.

It’s critical that you install the newest software release on your phone and on your home computers. Failing to maintain the most recent version of yoursoftware makes you more vulnerable. When software is first released, there are often security flaws that aren’t identified, updated versions fix the vulnerabilities.

Keep your software up to date by downloading updates as soon as they are released.

Additionally, never install apps from third party sellers. Read the reviews and ensure the app and the developer are legit.

Malware such as viruses and trojans can come in the form of apps or piggyback with them.

Use a strong password.

Use strong, unique passwords to secure all online accounts that have sensitive information.

Most passwords, Engel said, can be cracked in 10 seconds or less.

Having a strong password is the first line of defense in protecting your online accounts and devices.

Never shop on public Wi-Fi.

Public Wi-Fi is not secure. Never shop or bank on public Wi-Fi, unless using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

“If you are using public Wi-Fi, you can assume someone is looking over your shoulder,” said Engel.

Open networks are easy for cyber thieves to access your private information. Some public Wi-Fi isn’t even real; it’s someone who created what may look exactly like the real thing.

This is known as “man-in-the-middle” attack. Making transactions through public Wi-Fi makes it simple for thieves to intercept your transaction and gain your bank account and credit card information.

Use credit.

Make purchases with a credit card instead of a debit card. Using a debit card potentially gives thieves full access to your bank account, putting your money at risk. However, most credit card companies (and the issuing banks) offer some sort of fraud protection. Typically, if your credit card is compromised, you aren’t responsible for the losses.

Be sure to check your statements regularly to ensure purchases are all valid.