5 Tips to Shop Safe This Holiday

‘Tis the season… we want to be jolly, but unfortunately, hackers and scammers want to take advantage of our holiday habits. The holidays are one of the most notorious times of year for cybercrime, because hackers know that we’re spending money and we’re preoccupied. Keep your holidays merry and bright by shopping safe this holiday season. Here are a few tips you should know:

1. Be on the lookout for phishing scams

Amazon shopper survey

Phishing scams are one of the most common ways cyber criminals target you during the holidays. Other times of year, an unexpected shipping notification or invoice from an online retailer might raise eyebrows. In 2017, online sales are expected to reach an all-time high. In the aftermath of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, our inboxes are filled with purchase notifications, and there are boxes on the doorstep every night. If a fake one slips in, we’re a lot less likely to notice.
Tricky criminals make phishing messages look like they came from FedEx or Amazon. Look for branding that’s out of place, misspelled words or suspicious links to identify fakes. Be cautious too of deals that look too good to be true. (They probably are.)

Another common scheme to watch out for is fake apps. People download tons of apps on their phones, for social media, entertainment, and shopping. Hackers often develop fake apps that are branded to look like the legitimate ones everyone knows, but include malicious codes, ads, and more.
Recently, over a million people were tricked into downloading a fake version of the popular messenger, WhatsApp. Normally, the best way to spot fakes is to check the name of the app developer. If you don’t recognize the developer name, that’s a big red flag. In this case, the criminals were especially sneaky because they included an invisible character to make the developer name look the same.
Check out ratings and reviews before you download any news apps and always be suspicious of apps that make too-good-to-be-true offers.

2. Shop on legitimate, secure sites

Everyone loves finding great deals around the holidays, but think twice when that site you’ve never heard of offers you 90% off on a new iPhone. Stick to sites that you know, or double-check reviews before you trust an unknown vendor with your personal information.
Before you fill out a form or hand over your credit card information, also check if the website is secured. Look for an https and a green bar or lock icon before the website address, rather than just http. This means that the website is securing and encrypting your data as its being transferred. If you don’t see this, hackers may be able to intercept personal data that you submit to that website.

secure web
Look for the secure https when browsing the web

3. Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi

Just as you should avoid shopping on unsecured websites, you shouldn’t shop on unsecured Wi-Fi. You may love the Wi-Fi at the airport or your local coffee shop, but it’s inherently unsafe. You can join it easily, but so can everyone else, including hackers.
Cybercriminals can take advantage of unsuspecting public Wi-Fi users to eavesdrop on your online activity. They can exploit the network’s lack of security to intercept data like email addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.
According to a Norton Cybersecurity poll, 60% of consumers believe using public Wi-Fi is riskier than using a public restroom. Despite the danger, many people still access sensitive personal data on these networks, such as email, shopping and bank accounts. So this holiday season, do your online shopping at home or on a trusted, secured network, not at the coffee shop.

4. Be cautious of non chip-card transactions

If you’re shopping in-store this season, you’re unfortunately still not immune from threats of thievery. Credit card fraud is especially prevalent during the holidays – again, because people are less likely to notice a stray transaction during shopping season.
In physical locations, criminals can install a device called a credit card skimmer on ATMs or other points of sale. These devices steal the information from your credit card, and the next thing you know, they’re doing their holiday shopping on your dime. Unfortunately, these skimmers are often extremely difficult to detect.

phone security feature
Look out for sneaky skimmers like this one at self-checkouts. Source: Krebs on Security

Related Article: Credit Card Skimming: What You Need to Know

Protect yourself by using chip-based transactions. Many credit cards now have an EMV chip which is inserted into the payment terminal, rather than swiped. The chip adds an extra layer of security that makes it much harder for criminals to steal and use your credit card information. If chip-card transactions aren’t an option, double-check for any tampering with the payment terminal or consider using cash.

5. Regularly review your account activity

One of the dangers of cybercrime is that people often don’t realize they’ve been compromised until long after it’s happened. Combat this by regularly checking your account balances to make sure that all transactions are valid. If you notice any unauthorized charges or suspicious activity, report it immediately.
Many banks and credit card companies also offer transaction notifications, for added awareness. You can opt in for real-time email, or even text message alerts for any transaction over the threshold you set. That way, you can stay on top of all your activity and immediately identify any fraudulent purchases.
Whether you’re shopping in-store or online this holiday season, stay vigilant and practice safe shopping habits to make sure your season stays jolly. We wish you very happy (and secure) holidays!