Online Shopping Safety

The Black Friday sales fliers are filling your mailbox and emails about the unbeatable sales are stuffing your inbox. If you are a holiday deal seeker, it may be time to consider how the changes in our world can affect your sale-savvy habits. If you have evolved into the typical cyber shopper for your holiday deals, then you need to educate yourself on the security risks involved with internet shopping today.

There are pros and cons of each method of shopping, but we’ll skip the debate of “internet vs brick & mortar” and concentrate on the risks an online shopper subjects themselves to when securing their holiday shopping deals.

You ARE being watched

The methods advertisers use to target their ideal customer can be downright disturbing. As an example: If you’ve ever been checking your Facebook timeline and noticed an advertisement for an item you were just shopping for recently, it means your internet activity is being “tracked” and your information is shared by advertisers, 3rd party analysis firms, and other websites’ databases. This tracking can be in the form of internet “cookies”, “pixel-tags” and other data collecting “beacons” that are installed when you view a web page. While the collection of marketing data, in itself, is not necessarily harmful, the tactics taken by some entities can be less than honest and can lead to your security being compromised. Just because nobody is standing over your shoulder doesn’t mean nobody is watching. As a rule: dance like nobody’s watching, but surf the internet like your grandma is with you.

Cookies for the holidays?

Cookies are small files that can be put onto your computer by the website, to store information about your user habits on that site. They can help your experience by remembering your preferences or passwords. A “session cookie “acts as a short-term memory for the website, whereas a “persistent cookie” can continue to monitor your web activity and habits after you’ve left that site. When cookie functionality is used to track personal data to be exploited on the dark side, they are called “malicious cookies”. Many websites now will offer up the fact that they are using cookies and provide additional information about them.

‘Tis the season for scams

Online scams increase by almost 200% during the American & European “holiday” shopping seasons. They can come in the form of E-cards, lotteries, a phishy email, a link on a sketchy website, a social media contest, fake charities, a 3rd party app for your smartphone, and a variety of other disguises. While it’s important to keep your antivirus software up to date, your own instincts and observations are the most important defense to online scamming. As a rule: unless you really do have Nigerian royalty in your blood, keep your bank account number to yourself.

Gone phishing?

The term “phishing” refers to scams involving someone (the bad guys) posing as a legitimate source such as city utilities, a known charity, even the IRS, to gain data about you. The most common phishing attempts are usually appearing to be from financial institutions. They may look like they actually come from your bank with logos and designs, but the links in those emails can lead to malicious websites, many times mimicking your bank’s site exactly. If you try to log into the website with your bank credentials, you essentially gave the bad guys your real bank login, they probably won’t be making deposits.

The easiest way to avoid falling for phishing scams is to go directly to the source: if the email says it’s from your bank, go to your bank’s website and login from there.

Know your browser

Some browsers are more advanced than others, it’s essential to be sure you have the newest version to ensure the best security it can offer you. When you are shopping online, be sure to take note whether the URL address of the site begins with an https or not.

Know your padlock ????

While shopping for your holiday deals, it’s imperative to look for the padlock icon in your browser’s URL bar (NOT on the web page itself!) that lets you know your personal data is encrypted on a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection. You don’t need to understand how SSL works, just that your lock icon is genuine on your checkout page or any page that you enter personal information on. Remember, each browser shows this lock in slightly different ways, so be sure to learn what your real padlock should look like.

Split your money

Once you’ve found your awesome online bargain, you’ve tested the site’s security and you trust the transaction, finish the deal wisely. As a rule: don’t use your main bank account for online purchases. Instead, create a second account that only contains what you plan on spending.

Print receipts & check your statements

After you’ve completed your online shopping and you have ALL receipts printed, be sure to check your bank account statements for small “micro-charges”. A common practice for less-than-honest online merchants is to add small charges that can easily go unnoticed if not diligent about matching purchases to receipts. These can be completely separate from the original charge, or just a small difference in the total invoice.

Stay safe, shop smart and have a great holiday season.