Black Friday—and its digital counterpart, Cyber Monday—are fast approaching. This may be the best weekend of the year for finding bargains, but if you’re not careful about where you shop online, you may find yourself in trouble. If you’re planning on bargain-hunting over this blow-out weekend, follow these tips to stay safe online.
Update Your Software
It’s important to keep the software you use up-to-date at all times, but this time of year is a great opportunity to make sure the programs and apps you use are current. In particular, check the publisher for your operating system, browser, and anti-virus software, to maximise your protection against malware and other cyber-attacks.
Another simple way to help protect your computer is to install ad and tracker blocking extensions on your browser. Using these extensions can help prevent hackers downloading malware to your computer via your browser, so even if you do accidentally stray onto a suspicious website, there’s less risk that you might fall victim.
Beware of Phishing Attempts
A big chunk of cyber fraud happens via phishing emails that are designed to steal people’s credit card information, or other sensitive details. It’s important to be wary of unsolicited email at any time of year, but around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there’s typically a big surge in the number of phishing emails that people receive.
These emails are designed to mimic email sent by real retailers, but clicking on links within the email takes the unwary user to a dummy website that’s set up to install malware on their computer. Instead of clicking on the links, type the retailer’s address into your browser to get to the website—this way you’ll bypass any links designed for phishing purposes. Do the same for discount codes, and any other necessary information. This is a good habit to get into, even when you’re sure the email is genuine.
Use Unique Passwords
Don’t use the same password for every online store you use. In fact, it’s generally better to use a different strong password for every store, social media, and other account you use online. This ensures that if one of your accounts is compromised, the thief can’t use the password to gain access to any other accounts you hold.
Be Cautious with E-commerce Apps
Most e-commerce apps are safe to use, but a big chunk of Black Friday-specific apps are malicious in some way. If you want to use shopping apps on your mobile device, stick to apps that are published by specific retailers—and only download them from official app stores, or from the retailer’s official website. Never download e-commerce apps from third-party shopfronts—it’s just too risky.
Make Online Purchases Safely
When you do see a bargain you just can’t pass up, there are a couple of things you can do to make sure your purchase is secure.
First, when you’re making a purchase, ensure that you’re on a secure webpage by checking that the address starts with HTTPS rather than HTTP. If the address starts with HTTPS, it means that page has a valid encryption certificate. Any data you send, such as your payment details, are encrypted so that they can’t be exploited by hackers.
Second, make online purchases only when you’re at home, on your own secured internet connection. Free public Wi-Fi networks tend to be lax when it comes to security, and aren’t safe if you’re sending or receiving sensitive information.
And third, use your credit card rather than debit card, for online purchases. Credit cards offer a higher level of protection from fraudulent use, so if your card is compromised somehow, you’ll be covered for a higher monetary value.
Think Safety When Buying Internet-Connected Devices
These days, many everyday items can connect to the internet. Along with mobile devices and computers, things like security cameras, toys, and household appliances can connect and be operated through an online connection. This can definitely make them more convenient to use, but in some cases, these items can also pose a security risk.
If you’re thinking of buying an item that can connect to the internet, it’s worthwhile spending a few minutes researching before you make the purchase. Check online reviews from consumers to make sure there are no security issues that might make the item risky to use.
Monitor Your Bank Accounts
Keep track of your financial situation by monitoring your bank and credit card accounts regularly. This is especially important over Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and at Christmas. Often, when hackers or thieves steal credit card information, they wait until this time of year to use the stolen info—as fraudulent transactions are less likely to be noticed in the busy holiday season. So keep an eye on your bank accounts, so that you can immediately spot and respond to any suspicious activity.