9 tips for safe shopping

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Last year we published a post on how to stay safe on Cyber Monday.  If you aren't familiar, Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving, and it's one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.  If you're one of these shoppers, be sure to follow the best practices that we talked about last year:

  • Harden your computer. Keep your software up-to-date to close security holes. Install or enable your firewall and anti-virus software.
  • Stick to best practices. Ignore or block pop-ups, use a strong and unique password, and stick to sites that you know are credible. And please for the love of [insert something you love] remember that if a deal looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true.
  • Avoid clicking on links from email ads. Just don’t do it. Go directly to your browser and enter the URL of the advertiser.
  • Use a secure connection. Make sure you are using https and not http when you shop. If you are shopping through a wireless connection, use a private network rather than an open network.
  • Use credit instead of debit. As much as I hate credit cards, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this one because it just makes sense. There are more security protections on credit card transactions than on debit card transactions. So if you’re shopping with a card, make it a credit transaction.

You can take your security a bit further with these additional steps:

  • Use a prepaid credit card.  With all of the recent big-box breaches, people are understandably worried about using their credit cards.  One way to mitigate this risk is to use a prepaid card.  These are usually available for little or no cost, and they are not attached to your financial institution.  If the card is lost or stolen, your risk is limited to the value of the card.
  • Enable fraud notifications and other alerts.  Check with your financial institution to see what kind of notification system they have.  Some institutions offer notifications for unusually high spending or other abnormal transactions.  This can mean the difference between being compromised for a few hours as opposed to a few days or weeks.
  • Use extra caution if you are on your smartphone.  Your smart devices like phones and tablets can do everything a desktop computer can do, but sometimes without enough protection.  Malware can infect your phone and do some damage to your mobile data, or can reside on the phone until the device is connected to a network.  Watch mobile-friendly URLs to make sure they take you to a legitimate site, and make sure your phone is password protected if you are storing payment data on the device.
  • Do not shop while using public Wi-Fi.   Many hotspots do not encrypt data, so the information you are entering could end up with a third party.  It's best to wait until you are on a secure network before you do your shopping.  This is true whether you are using laptops, tablets, or smartphones.  It's about the Wi-Fi, not your device.

These may seem like basic steps, but every holiday season brings new shoppers into the world of online commerce.   If you know someone who will be shopping online this year, be sure they know what to watch out for.

Am I missing anything?  Let us know in the comments or on social.

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