The holiday season is upon us, and it’s time to indulge in some temptations.
With a cup of hot chocolate in hand, sitting on your favorite easy chair, near the smoldering coals, making that list of what to buy is an experience on its own.
It brings a smile while imagining what things are coming your way with the touch of a button. Online shopping is hassle-free.
While you’re enjoying your fun-filled shopping, you might not be aware that hundreds of hackers and fraudsters are eagerly awaiting for you to be a tad bit careless during this time of the year to rob you of your money.
Holiday shopping season is a joyous time for thieves too.
Whether you believe it or not… cybercrimes are a reality and so is identity theft. It doesn’t just happen in the movies, it happens on a huge scale in real life too.
The alarming voices you hear on the internet regarding privacy and data security carry real weight.
As the internet grew, so did the possibilities of what could be achieved on it.
First, it was the flow of information and now it is hassle-free browsing and purchasing of products. The internet has reduced the need of the classic brick and mortar stores, resulting in products which are…
- Cheaper due to the lack of extra expenditure on physical display and showcases.
- Mass produced since businesses are not limited to the space of their physical stores.
- Easily delivered due to the smart allocation of storage facilities with area-specific products.
- And extremely easy to try on/demo and purchase.
Just a decade ago, nobody would have imagined the size of the ecommerce industry has grown into today.
As the size of the transactions done online grew, so did the attempts of people trying to outsmart the system.
And these people are often frighteningly successful. Today, the market is expected to be well upwards of $700 billion. In this massive market, sales alone during the holidays are expected to be around $123 billion.
This massive market is now a huge target. Being part of this ecosystem, you are more likely to be a victim during the process of online shopping in the holiday season than any other cybercrime.
According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the count of non-payment/non-delivery (shopping scams) tops the list of cybercrimes.
It outnumbers both the runners-up (personal data breaches and phishing) combined.
All this seems off-putting and frightening. Fear not; it is an avoidable matter. Cybercrimes don’t just magically happen.
Just as in the real world, theft or scams rely on loopholes of the systems, cybercrimes happen because of loopholes in the system are exposed by users’ careless mistakes.
Follow our below mentioned smart tips to avoid making these mistakes and have a rock solid, bulletproof, guilt- and trouble-free shopping experience.
Secure Your Device
Right before shopping, make sure of the following:
1. Update Your Device’s OS, Web Browser and Antivirus Software
The base of all malware and cyberattacks is the existing system’s loopholes. Not every system is perfect.
Whenever a new version rolls out, there is a possibility of some loopholes which are then “patched-up” by releasing software patches. Once a software is found to have too many loopholes, a newer version is released.
So whenever a patch or a newer version is available for your device’s OS, make sure to update it.
This is the same case with your browser and your antivirus. Your browser is where you go through all of your internet-based activities.
Make sure to have the latest, updated version so that your data is secured.
Antivirus software programs use a sort of dictionary of viruses to find and locate malware. Just imagine how incapable the antivirus would be if there are new viruses in the market that it knows nothing about.
Plug that hole and update your antivirus.
These are the three main things from where your data/privacy can be compromised.
Updating them may sound like an inconvenient and time-consuming task. But weigh in the benefit of having your data and in turn, your money, secured, and you will feel the burden lighten up.
2. Set up Strong Passwords
Once the system you use is fortified, the next best thing to do is choose strong passwords that cannot be found by brute force attacks or by guessing your login information.
It doesn’t matter how strong your antivirus program is or how secured you have set your computer to be if everyone knows that you love The Avengers and are fond of nicknaming anything you own after them.
It won’t take long before someone finds out that your password is thanosrules123.
Password hacking usually happens by first knowing a bit about the user’s personality and then trying out different combinations through a program.
It’s best to do the following while setting up a password:
- Use a sentence or long phrase without spaces.
- Use things which don’t relate to you personally in the sentence.
- Use numbers, alphabets and symbols in the sentence.
- Use upper/lower case combinations.
- Use at least 10-12 letters, numbers and/or symbols.
- Use different passwords for different accounts.
- And above all… DO NOT tell anyone your password.
Remembering passwords can be hard. There’s software that can help with this, but do keep in mind that they too can be vulnerable. The best way of securing something is to keep it offline if possible. Memorize your passwords.
3. DO NOT Use Free Public Wi-Fi Networks
Most free Wi-Fi providers do not provide additional security measures to properly secure/encrypt the data.
The data traveling through such a public Wi-Fi service is easy to pick up by anyone having the right tools. It is best not to use them and use your own cellular data instead.
4. Use Your Own Private Network – VPN
Sometimes it is unavoidable. You absolutely have to have those freshly baked goodies right out of the over from your favorite bakery.
Browsing and shopping, while you are having them, is an experience you are craving for. Or maybe you are at an airport, stuck for an unknown period of time.
It is times like these and more that you should be using a VPN, your very own Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all your traffic to its server and then redirects it from its server to the actual destination.
So it not only secures the data that you are sending and receiving but also the data about your location. These are just two of the main functions that VPNs perform. There are a ton of other useful things they do, like…
- Have specialty servers for gaming, streaming, downloading etc.
- Ad blocking.
- Malware protection.
- File sharing.
- Helping you select the location you want to appear connected to.
In short… it will enable you to use an insecure network on your device without having to worry about your data being hacked.
Now that you have your device all set up, its time to see what changes can you make to your behavior to help you stay safe. First on the list—your money.
5. Use a Virtual Credit Card
If there is a choice between a credit card and debit card, it could go anywhere depending on the individual’s own personal choice.
Some people like to cap their spending by keeping only a limited amount in their debit cards, others have different methods.
However, when it comes to liability protection, credit cards offer better choices. So talk to your bank about these and choose wisely.
OR… you could use a virtual credit card.
A virtual credit card is a temporary card created with your specified credit limit for a short period of time.
It can only be used during that time and then it expires. This enables you to do the transactions you want without sharing your actual credit card information.
To top it off, your prior set limit will not only let you shop within the limit but also keep the damage down in a rare case of a hack.
6. Buy from Trusted Websites
No matter how tempting that special offer seems, buy from a site which is…
- A brand with a good reputation, or
- A website which you trust, or
- At least a website with great customer service that you are familiar with and ready to trust.
Buying from reputable brand names gives you the ease of knowing that the business owners value their reputation and have taken measures for privacy and data security.
The added benefits would include having no issues over the quality of the product you are buying.
7. Buy from a Real Website
Yes, all websites are real. But is the website amzon.com the real amazon website? And this zappoz.com seems a little off, should you buy from them?
One of the easiest ways of tricking shoppers into sharing their information is by using websites that mimic the real websites and have similar website addresses.
Visiting these sites endangers you into clicking on some malicious links, downloading some unwanted software or straight ahead sharing your financial information. So, you should:
- Check the address of the website you are visiting.
- Be careful on a newer website when sharing information. They don’t need your social security number or your mother’s maiden name. Bail out if you see anything out of the ordinary.
8. The Lock – Check for a Secure Connection
While you are checking the address of the site you are visiting to be authentic, also check for a lock symbol on the left of the address bar.
Whether it’s a trusted brand or a newer website you want to try from, the very least thing you can do is to check the lock symbol.
Having this symbol means that security measures are taken and the webpage has a security protocol installed. The traffic through these pages is encrypted and secured.
Another thing to note is that the website address will start from “https://” rather than the usual “http://”.
If you find yourself filling out financial information on a page that doesn’t have these, then stop right there and don’t follow through.
Once you are all done with your shopping…
9. Keep a Regular Watch on Your Statements
It is always wise to keep a regular follow up of your bank statements. It will help you identify anything unusual while the usage of your credit card is still fresh in your mind.
This helps you report if anything is wrong faster and hopefully when appropriate action can be taken.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to having a regular routine of keeping your security upgraded at all times and following good habits.
A little help from technology like VPNs and virtual credit cards can give you an added advantage to counter unforeseen scenarios and you are good to enjoy the holiday season without security issues.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to having a regular routine of keeping your security upgraded at all times and following good habits. A little help from technology like VPNs and virtual credit cards can give you an added advantage to counter unforeseen scenarios and you are good to enjoy the holiday season without security issues.