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How to Practice Safer Online Shopping

The global pandemic has changed how we work, learn, interact, and shop. Lockdowns, social distancing guidelines and fears of COVID-19 outbreaks have led to more virtual interactions in nearly every aspect of our lives.

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The 2020 holiday season is one of the most unusual ones we have seen (and hopefully will ever see again).  As you make your holiday shopping list and check it twice, instead of visiting your favorite brick-and-mortar stores you are likely sitting in front of your computer or mobile device purchasing gifts that will be hand delivered by a shipping carrier instead of Santa - or you. Statistics show online shopping was already on the rise before COVID-19 and has increased even more since the pandemic began. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that consumers spent $211 billion in online transactions between April and June of this year, accounting for nearly 20% of all consumer sales. In the first ten days of the holiday shopping season, U.S. consumers spent $21.7 billion online, a 21 percent year-over-year increase, according to Adobe Analytics.

While many things remain uncertain during these unprecedented times, experts predict that the upward trend in online shopping will continue in our post-pandemic world. As the saying goes “thieves go where the money is.” Cybercriminals and identity thieves are also taking advantage of the rise in online shopping, especially during the most wonderful and busiest shopping season of the year when consumers are feeling jolly and generous. online shoppingWhile you’re decking the halls and clicking your way to checkout, take the extra time to make sure you practice safer surfing and shopping - not just at the holidays but every day. Add these cyber hygiene practices to your New Year’s resolutions!

  • Navigate directly to a retailer’s website rather than click on a link in an ad, email, text or social media post. Cyber thieves are smart and sophisticated these days. They can quickly and easily create a spoofed (bogus) website of well-known and local brands that looks very legitimate.
  • Shop only on secure websites. Visit only sites that begin with https and have the padlock in the browser bar. If you have any concerns about it being a legitimate site, do some research before providing your payment information or other data. You can check a business’s reputation at third party review organizations like the BBB and Yelp. Using search terms like “Scam” or “Complaints” along with the website or company name can give you insight into the experience of other customers.
  • Don't shop while on public Wi-Fi. Never use public Wi-Fi to check your bank account information or to make purchases. Most public Wi-Fi connections are not secure, and a hacker could have the ability to position themselves between you and the connection point to steal you data.
  • Choose secure payment methods. Use credit cards and not debit cards when shopping online as credit cards provide more protection than debit cards. If a thief compromises your debit card that is linked to your bank account, they can immediately drain your all your available funds. It may take time for the bank to restore the stolen funds, leaving you without access to the money. In addition to debit and credit cards, there are also peer-to-peer payment apps, digital wallets and online versions of contactless payments like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Take advantage of strong authentication measures offered by the providers of these services and know what security and fraud protection policies they have in place.
  • Strong password management locks out thieves. Have strong passwords and never reuse your passwords. The Identity Theft Resource Center recommends using at least a twelve-digit passphrase because they are easier to remember and harder for an identity thief to crack. An identity thief will not be able to access multiple accounts if they gain access to one account with stolen credentials from a scam or shoulder surfing. Using a password management program, such as LastPass or Dashlane can keep your login credentials safe and secure.
  • Ignore callers who ask for your personal information. This includes "customer service representatives” who call about online orders or accounts or charities looking for donations over the phone. Never give out your personal or financial information over the phone to someone you don’t know or on a call that you did not initiate.
  • Beware of phishing emails with emotional triggers. Especially at the holidays and during any crisis (such as a pandemic), scammers prey on your emotions. Ignore and delete texts sent to your phone claiming huge discounts if you download an app and enter your credit card information. Another popular phishing email is package tracking scams that offer to track your packages or claim you have a package and they need more details to deliver it. Never click on a link, attachment or file from an unknown email because that is how scammers strike with malware, ransomware and steal your personal information.

You take preventative measures to protect your physical home from intruders - locks on the doors and windows, outdoor lighting, and Ring or other Wi-Fi enabled cameras.  Learn more about how Winston can help protect your digital life at Winston's Master Guide to Protecting Your Online Privacy.