With the biggest shopping season upon us, safety remains a top priority both on and offline. Retailers expected more than $11 billion be spent between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and beyond. That meant that most shoppers are using the internet for those must-have gifts this season.
This also meant that thieves are monitoring people’s shopping habits. Just like the criminal that watches one’s comings and goings, hackers find patterns and find where their victims frequently shop and hone in on their weaknesses.
With that in mind, here is a set of helpful online shopping safety tips:
1. Ensure that the website address is secure and has a valid encryption certificate. It will usually display a “locked, green” indicator in front of the website name. If it doesn’t have that, it does not have a higher level of security that has been guaranteed by a known entity like Verisign, Symantec and others.
2. Ensure your system has the most recent recommended system and security patches.
3. Always use a credit card that is not tied directly to your personal bank account(s), even if you are using PayPal, Bitcoin or some other payment method. Thankfully, there isn’t a bank card in my wallet.
4. Never give anything other than name, address and phone number. You should not need to answer security or privacy questions when making a purchase or checking out. If they ask, see if you can checkout as a “guest” instead.
5. Monitor your credit through a third party for identify theft and have SMS and email alerts sent to you immediately. I use LifeLock, which notifies me via phone or text messaging when there is a problem with my identity.
6. Set-up alerts with your credit card company that send both SMS and emails when any purchases are made and the credit card was not scanned (meaning, it wasn’t in someone’s hand when the charge was made). Set them as low as $25 per purchase. Also, set-up alerts for total purchases over $500 in a billing period to protect multiple $24.99 purchases. And if possible, a maximum amount of purchases allowed in a billing period, such as $1500 before card will get declined. My credit card companies will notify me of suspicious activity on my cards for free. There isn’t much space for a criminal to run up a bill on any of them anyway.
7. Ensure that you have a reputable Antivirus program running on your computer and that your browser has an Ad blocking plug-in. Even with this protection in place, things still slip under the radar like the flashing ads from a flashplayer. If this happens, run the antivirus program immediately to avoid an infection or malware problem.
8. Ensure that the network your computer/device is on is secure and you know who has access to your network. This is usually done with your router. You want to lock down your router so that traffic can be initiated from the inside-out but you do not want traffic to be initiated from the outside-in. If you are using a WiFi connection, make sure that network is also secure and requires a password to join. If it is a public WiFi network that doesn’t require a password, then the traffic coming from your device can be monitored and stolen. I don’t use hotspots. With only two gigabites a month, my phone is only used to make calls when I am out. I make purchases via the computer anyway.
9. Any passwords that you use should be strong, hard to guess ones. Or, even better, hard to guess, but easy to remember.
10. Don’t click on unfamiliar links to sites advertising sales, coupons, etc. This was one of the reasons why people, myself included, got in trouble. In my desparation to have that elusive video, I went ‘off the grid; to make the purchase and ended up not getting it. I got something with English subtitles instead from Amazon.
11. Use two-factor authentication/verification, if it is offered. I’ve learned my lesson. To protect Yoboogle from hackers, I tried this. It took three tries in order to have this safety feature removed. Because I had no hooked up printer/scanner, I had to send the form to the apartment manager to print out so I could sign it. E-signing wasn’t accepted. They had to rescan the signed form back to me so it could be sent to GoDaddy.
It has been my policy never to purchase anything via my phone. My bad habit is leaving sensitive information on the clipboard or not erasing my cyber trail after Googling something. I my phone didn’t have an alert about this, hackers would have a field day. No wonder someone from Turkey and Taiwan tried hacking into two of my email accounts a while back. After my yahoo account got hacked via the app, I stopped ordering food, like pizza using online coupons. There are some safety tips to remember when using your phone:
Most of the time one can download the free version of an app. Always look for this first.
2. Be wary of applications that ask for suspicious permissions, like access to contacts, text messages, administrative features, stored passwords, or credit card info. Never allow this unless absolutely necessary.
3. Check out the background of an app before downloading. Research the developer and be cognizant of the spelling of brand names. Like fraudulent emails and phone numbers, there can be fake apps too. If there is any bad press, you will find it.
4. Make sure to take a deep look at each app. New developers, or developers that leverage free email services (e.g., @gmail) for their developer contact, can be enormous red flags — threat actors often use these services to produce mass amounts of malicious apps in a short period. Also, poor grammar in the description highlights the haste of development and the lack of marketing professionalism that are hallmarks of mobile malware campaigns. Check the reviews to see if there is a history of trouble.
The ironic thing about most Black Friday purchases is that the majority of shoppers used this method, according to a Today Show Saturday report. Target had the top sales of 3,200 TVs a minute their first hour. Online sales hit a record $3 billion. Amazon sold 100,000 toys in their first few hours. Also ironic is that Target, Walmart and Best Buy had the best sales on electronics like gaming consoles and kitchen items, in spite of some big ticket items and their ‘limited availability’ or ‘allowed amount’ per buyer.
My trouble with apps aren’t the shopping kind, like Amazon, Overstock, Best Buy and Retail Me Not. They usually are the type meant to support one’s smart phone. Cleanmaster was great until it was infected with malware. CM Security already had memory boosting capabilities, a way to clean junk files, shut down battery draining apps, a security scan, and call blocking capabilities. There isn’t any need for all other apps.
My first desktop computer was bought after Christmas. My first laptop was purchased about one month before the holiday shopping season officially opened. My reasoning for owning a laptop at the time was because my desktop was showing its age and slowing down. Sale ads have been always on television, in the local paper and online. I got lucky—or so I thought, because they were getting rid of the brand of computer or laptop desired by me. I got what I paid for. The motherboard was not expandable.
This is a hard lesson to learn both with laptops and desktops. Buyer beware. One should buy new or trade up, not just look at the price tag when considering an electronic purchase. Trading up meant the purchase was expandable. I went from Windows 8 to 10 because it was built into my laptop and it was free till July of this year. Compatibility is a major factor also. My television is compatible with the Clearwire TV Antenna. My brother just bought me a Blue-Ray DVD Player, but in order to work, it needed the newest in television sets because the new player did not decode on the analog sets I have. With both the old computers, the lack of space to upgrade to Windows 7 after Windows XP went out of service, forced the need for a new laptop.
The trick here is avoiding scams both online and in the store at any time, not just around the holidays. They can happen anywhere, even over the phone. While one locks their gifts in the trunk to avoid theft, avoid being taken for a fool by believing everything in print. Know what the offers are and their limitations to avoid any misunderstandings.