This is no coincidence. When online sales increase, it gives cybercriminals more opportunities to steal credit card details and any other sensitive personal information they can get their hands on.
Black Friday is the best day for finding great deals, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t take the right precautions.
Keep reading for our top 10 tips for safe online shopping this Black Friday.
1. Use a secure connection
Always use a private and secure connection (preferably your home Wi-Fi) to shop online. If you absolutely must use a public Wi-Fi connection, then always secure your connection with a VPN provider. The best VPN providers, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, encrypt your traffic between their servers and your device. This prevents hackers from intercepting your connection in order to spy on you or place malware on your device.
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2. Use websites you trust
When you do your online shopping this Black Friday, only buy from brands you’re familiar with or that you can easily verify. By all means purchase from small businesses, but make sure the website you’re on is the real one and not some rogue site masquerading as a legitimate website. Red flags to look out for are misspelled addresses (e.g. Amazzon.com, Targget.com) or unconventional top-level domains (such as .net or .xyz).
3. Check for the padlock
Before purchasing online, always verify that the site you’re on has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption. You can check this by looking for the padlock in the address bar (to the left of the URL on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge; to the right of the URL on Internet Explorer). If the padlock is showing, then the site is secure. If you see an info bubble (a circle with the letter ‘i’ inside), or a warning sign (a triangle with an exclamation mark inside), then the site may be not secure or dangerous.
4. Be alert to phishing scams
Email-based attacks, also known as phishing scams, are a tactic used by cybercriminals to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials and credit card details by disguising themselves as a trustworthy actor. Phishing attacks fall into four categories: emails that impersonate a brand (e.g. Amazon.Support@gmail.com), emails that impersonate an individual, emails from a look-alike domain (e.g. noreply@Ammazonn.com), and emails sent from a trusted source that a cybercriminal has broken into. This Black Friday shopping season, be alert to all the above forms of phishing scams.
5. Create unique passwords
It’s easy to get irritated when businesses make you create a strong password before signing up, but there’s a logic to this requirement. One way cybercriminals hack into people’s accounts is by trying common number-letter combinations. The shorter or simpler (e.g. using only numbers or only letters) your password, the easier it is for cybercriminals to break in and steal your data or make purchases using your credit card. Therefore, pick longer passwords with a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols for your online shopping. And don’t use the same password for online shopping as you do for your email or bank accounts.
6. Limit the information you provide
There are details you’ll need to provide in order to make online purchases, and then there are details you should never have to provide. When making a purchase from a trusted website, you should expect to have to provide your name, contact info, credit card number, billing address, and shipping address. If an online retailer asks you for personal information that isn’t relevant to the transaction, such as your social security number or driver’s license number, then this should be a warning not to trust the site.
7. Keep your browser up to date
For a safe online shopping or browsing experience, always run the most up-to-date version of your browser that your device can support. Browsers regularly release updates to protect against the latest types of viruses and threats. As a bonus, they also improve the speed of your internet. Updates usually happen in the background when you close and reopen your browser. If you haven’t closed your browser in a while, then you’ll need to check for pending updates. Check your browser’s support page for instructions on how to check for updates.
8. Regularly monitor your credit card statements
To find out if your credit card has been used by hackers, check your credit card statements. As top credit bureau Experian advises, red flags include purchases you don’t recognize; lots of small charges; unfamiliar company names on your statement; payments in far-away locations; and a significantly reduced credit balance. If you see fraudulent charges on your credit card statement, then the first thing to do is notify your credit card company. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), charges must exceed $50 to be eligible for dispute. However, many credit card companies allow disputes to be filed for smaller transactions.
9. Keep track of purchases
When you purchase from a legitimate website, you can expect to receive email or SMS confirmation almost instantly. If you find yourself waiting a while to hear from the seller, then it may be time to follow up. If the seller doesn’t respond or shows any other signs of shady activity, then it may be time to file a dispute with your credit card company.
10. Report any issues to the FTC
If you become the victim of a fraud, scam, or bad business practice, then you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. When you report a scam to the FTC, investigators use your information to build cases against scammers and shut them down. Other law enforcement agencies can use the reports in their own investigations, too.
You wouldn’t walk into a packed brick-and-mortar store without keeping your credit card on you at all times, and you owe yourself the same level of self-protection when shopping online. This Black Friday, be aware of the different ways cybercriminals can steal from you and take all necessary steps to protect yourself – including only shopping from trusted retailers, being alert to scams, and using a VPN to secure your internet connection.