This is an unprecedented holiday shopping season. With many retailers either closed or significantly cut back on Black Friday sales, shoppers are swarming the virtual stores looking for great deals on their computers or smartphones. There are lots of deals to be had this year and most Black Friday sales started a week or more ago.
A recent survey by the data company "Morning Consult" found half of the holiday shoppers plan to do most of their shopping online.
Traditionally, holiday shoppers are conscious of how to protect themselves by not leaving packages in the car and being aware of their surroundings. With hackers and cyber-pickpockets looking to make a fast buck, it's a good idea to refresh yourself on some tips to keep you safe online.
● Do not use your debit card. If a bad guy were to steal your debit card information they can drain your entire bank account and the bank might not give you any relief.
● Use a credit card online. You can also purchase a re-loadable gift card and use that instead. If a hacker were to get that information they would only be able to steal what's on the card.
● Use Paypal. Paypal connects an account to your credit card or bank account. While that might sound risky, Paypal offers protection to shoppers in the event the retailer is a scammer or you never receive your order.
● Use a VPN or virtual private network. These programs hide your location or ISP while you're online. If you're shopping on a smartphone or laptop in a local coffee shop, it would appear to any hacker or cyber pickpocket that you were actually in Canada or another location you choose. VPN's encrypt your information making it difficult (or even impossible) for a bad guy to steal your information.
● Don't use the free WiFi connection if you're in a coffee shop or mall. It's safer to use your cellular carrier's network.
● Or wait until you get home to shop.
● It's safer to use the retailer's app rather than going to a website, but...
● Make sure it's the right app. If you didn't download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, you're taking a risk that it's a fake app designed to steal your information and take your money.
● Fake apps have slipped into the app stores before so before downloading, check to see if it's the verified app released by the retailer.
● Do not click on advertisements sent to your email unless you are absolutely positively certain it's from the retailer.
● Many fake offers of free gift cards are common this time of year. If you're being offered a free gift card to a store it's probably fake.
● If you are shopping online, only shop at websites that are secure. Look for "HTTPS" in the address bar or a lock icon. If it doesn't show a lock or if it shows a broken lock and only "HTTP", it is not secure.
Bargains are plenty this Black Friday and Cyber Monday and more people will shop online than ever before. Cybercriminals know this and they're ready to scam everyone they can.