“Black Friday” is once again upon us and millions of Americans will be crowding their local big box retailers in the competitive sport of holiday shopping. For the rest of us who want to score a good deal but have little patience for aggressive mob behavior, there is now Cyber Monday, Black Friday’s kinder, more sedate younger sibling.
However, while the risk of taking an elbow to the head are significantly lessened when shopping from the comfort of your Lay-Z Boy, it hardly means that you’re not vulnerable to (fiscal) injury.
In fact, In a 2012 survey conducted in the US by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, estimated that fraud increases by 20% during the holiday season when compared to the rest of the year. Why? It’s likely because smart criminals are opportunistic and recognize that with every holiday season comes a fresh wave of consumers who are new to online shopping and largely unaware that sophisticated criminals are lying in wait.
So what measures should be taken to avoid a not-so-pleasant holiday surprise?
Santa’s little security helpers here at Easy Solutions have compiled a list of guidelines that should be shared with anyone who is planning to shop online this holiday season. To safeguard your financial data, remember to ALWAYS:
- Type in your bank’s Web address yourself and never log-in through links as they may direct you to a fake website that is phishing for your credentials.
- Closely examine your monthly credit card statement for unauthorized charges, or for charges that are not adequately explained. If you’ve been charged for something you didn’t buy, immediately contact your credit card issuer to contest the charges.
- Ensure that the operating system, browser, and security software are up to date on your computer and mobile device. Many attacks take advantage of vulnerabilities in older versions of software and browsers that have been patched in the latest version, but you won’t receive the benefits of this protection if you haven’t updated.
- Purchase only from well-known web sites with familiar payment systems. This is especially true for web applications, as many third-party application websites are swarming with malware disguised as legitimate apps.
- Verify that the website address starts with “https://” and that there is a padlock at the top of it. These indicate the page is safe for performing transactions. It’s also best to stick to sites that end with the conventional “.com” or “.net” domain.
- When you click through to a website, carefully read the domain name or the Internet address that appears at the top of your browser. Beware of any site whose name has even the slightest change from a legitimate online retailer (i.e., “Nordstram” versus “Nordstrom”).
And unless you want the financial equivalent of a lump of coal in your stocking, you should NEVER:
- Open any suspicious email messages with special holiday offers, especially if they sound too good to be true. They may redirect you to fake and fraudulent pages. Also be wary of holiday cards and other seasonal e-cards from people you know that contain attached files as they might contain malware.
- Conduct your online shopping from cybercafes or public computers. Only use your own private household network or even better, a dedicated computer that is only used for this purpose and nothing else. On public Wi-Fi connections, your communications and transactions have a much greater probability of being tapped, so you should avoid accessing or transmitting any sensitive data over these networks.
- Accept friend requests from strangers on social networks. In some cases, these strangers are simply mining your profile for data about you that they will then use in a phishing attack to make their false message seem more legitimate.
Of course, it goes without saying that it’s best to follow these guidelines all of the time, not just during the holiday season.
From all of us here at Easy Solutions, we hope you have a happy and safe holiday season.