How to protect your information when shopping online over the holidays

Leigh

Yes, it’s that time of year again – the holidays.  At or near the top of most people’s to-do lists during the holidays is finding the perfect give for a loved one or friend.  Businesses do everything they can to bring shoppers to their store, from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to discounts leading up to Christmas.  Unfortunately, businesses are not the only ones looking to target shoppers.  Hackers and scammers are also on the lookout, which is why you need to make sure you follow proven techniques when shopping this holiday season, especially when shopping online.

First and foremost, make sure your web browser software is up to date.  This will ensure your browser is protected against the latest threats and vulnerabilities.  You also want to make sure you have anti-virus and anti-malware software, which also needs to be kept updated.  The best practice, particularly for your anti-virus software, is to configure it to automatically update and conduct a regular scan of your system.

It is also a good idea to resist clicking links on social media sites or in your email, especially if you are not sure who the email came from.  Phishing and spear phishing are common attacks that rely on someone clicking on what they believe is a harmless link.  Instead, type in the web address for the site you want to visit.  If you want to check that status of an order, go to the site and login or enter your order information.  This is much safer than clicking a link.

You should also be wary of emails bragging of incredible savings or sales that seem to good to be true.  In many cases this is another attempt to get someone to click a link, resulting in malicious software invading the person’s system.  It can’t be stressed enough, do not click those links!

When ordering over the Internet, be sure your browser has a secure connection with the business’ web site.  There are several methods to do this.  First, look at the web address and make sure it begins with “https” and not just “http”.  The “s” indicates a secure connection.  You can also look for a small padlock icon in the same area as the web site address.  If the padlock is in the “locked” position, it also indicates  a secure connection.  This will ensure any data passed between your computer and the business’s system is encrypted, which prevents a malicious user from being able to steal it.

When purchasing online, it is also recommended you use a credit card and not a debit card.  This is because a credit card will give you a greater level of protection in the event of fraudulent purchases.  Be sure you understand what your credit card or debit card company will do to help protect you, before making a purchase.

If you follow these proven and safe practices, you can take advantage of those holiday sales knowing you are protecting your personal and sensitive information.  Remember, keep your web browser software updated, make sure you have anti-virus / anti-malware protection, and do not click on email links on social networking sites or in emails.  Stay safe and have a great holiday season!

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