$3.5 billion — that’s how much consumers spent during Cyber Monday in 2016, making it the biggest day in U.S. e-commerce history. From initial estimates, this year could break that record as Americans look to score the best deals on everything from personal computers to socks designed for your chair. Yep, that’s a thing.
While Cyber Monday provides us with the opportunity to purchase items we might not otherwise be able to, it also puts us at much higher risk of having our security, identity, and privacy compromised. Here’s how we can best protect ourselves this holiday season.
Beware of emails from retailers promoting unbelievable deals
Identity thieves know how much we love deals, so they will often send cleverly disguised emails that appear as if they’re coming from a reputable retailer. Exercise caution with each email you open, and if you see any of the following signs, do not proceed:
- Misspellings and grammatical errors throughout
- No contact details in the signature line
- The offer seems too good to be true
- The salutation is oddly worded or contains vague terms like “customer”
- When you hover over a link, it reveals a different URL than stated
- Something just feels off
If you believe that an email is fraudulent, do NOT click on any link within. Cybercriminals can cause you harm in myriad ways, including:
Installing malware: When you click on a link, hackers can use the opportunity to install malware on your computer. This means viruses, keyloggers, and other damaging software can be used to steal any data you have on your computer, including saved credit card numbers.
Installing ransomware: Clicking links can also install ransomware on your computer. Ransomware attacks, which work by taking control of your computer and demanding a fee to reclaim access, are highly effective — last year they generated $1 billion.
Phishing your personal data: Cybercriminals can also direct you to a phishing site to steal your personal information. After clicking a malicious link, users are directed to a website that looks very similar to a reputable site. Often, the site’s URL will only be slightly different from the real website, like SacksFifthAvenue vs. SaksFifthAvenue. The fake site will then ask for your personal information like your address or password. The collected data is then sent back to the cybercriminal to exploit for their gain.
Never download any software for an exclusive deal
If you see a promotion that offers an incredible deal if you download their special software, leave the site immediately. While some reputable companies provide discounts for using their software, many times this is a scam to infect your computer with harmful software like malware or ransomware.
Patch your software and keep it up to date
One of the easiest ways hackers can gain access to your system is by exploiting outdated software with known vulnerability issues. This goes for every piece of software you own, not just a web browser or anti-virus software. The good news is, you can finally get rid of those annoying system messages announcing a new version is ready.
Only use sites that offer a secure connection
Make sure every website you go to is HTTPS, especially if you’re going to enter your credit card details or other sensitive information. The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure,” and it pertains to the use of additional encryption levels. This doesn’t mean you’re 100 percent safe, but it does offer much more protection than sites with the HTTP designation.
Always use your virus scanner and make sure it’s updated
Quality virus scanners can help identify and quarantine malware and viruses before they spread throughout your system, but not all software is created equal. At the minimum, you need software that has both auto and manual virus scanning capabilities; offers real-time scanning; automatically scans downloads for viruses; protects your online transactions; is frequently updated for new threats; and comes standard with anti-spyware and email protection.
Use credit cards instead of debit cards to protect your finances
When possible, make online purchases using your credit card. Although you’ll still be at risk for fraud, the recovery process can be far easier with credit cards. Credit card users can dispute unauthorized purchases, damaged items, and purchases that are lost during shipping, due to the Fair Credit Billing Act.
With debit card purchases, charges can only be reversed when the merchant is willing to do so. Even if the merchant does agree to reimburse you for your loss, it could take much longer to see this money, because refunds won’t be issued until due process is complete.
Have fun, and stay safe this Cyber Monday
We’re not saying you shouldn’t shop on Cyber Monday; we just want you to be as safe as possible when making purchases. That $25 Blu-ray player won’t be worth the discount if you lose your identity in the process. Play it safe, and if you have doubts of any kind about a particular transaction, just walk away. You’ll thank yourself later.
To learn more about how you can protect yourself from cybercriminals during this holiday season and beyond, check out our complimentary ebook Phishing for Dollars: How Identity Theft Is Leaving Businesses and Their Employees on the Hook.