Digital Safety During The Holidays


Most of us will do more of our shopping online during the upcoming holiday season than ever before. Retailers compete for your attention with flash discounts and “today only” sales. Cybercriminals are just waiting to take advantage of this urgency and our distracted nature this time each year. They know that we’re usually more concerned with getting the sale price and less concerned with the security of our personal information.

But there are some basic, simple ways to mitigate a lot of the risks associated with sharing and storing your sensitive info – without compromising the convenience of shopping from your couch.

Here are 6 tips to stay digitally safe online during the holiday season:

Beware of shopping-related phishing schemes
Phishing involves emails designed to look like they’re from someone else – such as a brand you like or have purchased before. These emails will usually encourage you to click on a malicious link by enticing you with a deal or exclusive price. You will, of course, be redirected to a fake landing page that still looks like the brand they’re impersonating. Their goal is to try and collect your login credentials or payment information like your credit card number.

Before you click anything, take a moment to look over the entire email. Look at the address it came from. Use your mouse to hover the cursor over the link(s) without clicking on them. The real URL should be shown in a pop-up or at the bottom of your browser window. If you’re unsure or the deal looks too good to be true, delete the email immediately.

Avoid suspicious or unfamiliar retailers
Sometimes, scammers set up sites designed to attract bargain hunters hoping to score a great deal on the latest popular products. If you aren’t familiar with the website or company you are buying from, don’t take the risk. Or at least do some research beforehand. Do a Google search. You probably won’t be the first person to do so and you very well may be able to learn from their experiences.

Don’t shop online using free WiFi unless you’re using a VPN
The most obvious rule is that you shouldn’t do anything on public WiFi that you wouldn’t want all the strangers around you to see. If you’re connected to free WiFi in public locations such as airports, planes, trains, cafes, or hotels, you should be using a Virtual Privacy Network (VPN), which encrypts all the traffic coming in and out of your device. If you’re using a home WiFi or your cellular data, you don’t generally need to worry about using a VPN.

Don’t save sensitive info on a website or in your browser
This tip should be applied all year long, but it’s especially important during the busy holiday shopping season because we’re all looking for ways to save a bit of time. If you want to have the convenience of auto-filling your information on different sites without sacrificing the security of your data, you should try a password manager, which can give you automatic logins and secure form auto-fills.

Secure accounts with strong passwords
You probably won’t be lucky enough to complete all your holiday shopping at one website. Therefore you will probably need to log into multiple sites. If you’re required to create a password (as opposed to checking out as a “guest”), make sure that the password is unique and not used elsewhere. Also, make sure that it’s not an obvious one. Don’t use your name, address, or birthday, and change it frequently.

Ship to a secure location
Package theft by “porch pirates” has become more prevalent in recent years with the rise of online shopping. If no one’s home during the day, consider shipping a package to your office or to the home of a relative or neighbor that you’re sure will be available to take delivery.

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