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Stay Safe Online

During the holiday season, people everywhere are busy online shopping.

Holiday advertisements and sales bombard consumers looking to get the best gifts for the best price.

What people often forget about is how to stay safe while online shopping.

Buying from safe vendors and brands?

Is this website safe?

Are you keeping your information private?

Using secure payment methods?

All of these questions fall under the cybersecurity umbrella.

Not only are cyber scams an issue but identity theft is as well. According to a recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research, 14.4 million consumers were victims of identity fraud in 2018 with a total of 1.7 billion in out-of-pocket fraud costs.

We’ve found some steps to make sure you’re not another statistic. Before you start online shopping, be sure to read through these tips for extra cyber safety.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Disclosure here.


Is this Website Safe?

Visiting a variety of retail websites can leave you with so many options that it might be hard to choose from.

But do you know how reliable these websites are?

How expensive shipping is?

Or where they are located?

It’s important to research the company you’re buying from to make sure they are legitimate and reliable. Read reviews from previous buyers, check out their social media, and always make sure they aren’t asking you for any extra personal information that is not actually needed.

The only information a retail website should be looking for from you is a name, address, and payment information.

Keep that in mind before you continue with your purchase.


What is a VPN?

All online purchases are reliant on one thing; an Internet connection.

While using your mobile device on-the-go, it’s important to be aware of the network you’re connected to.

A VPN creates a private network from a public Internet connection.

So the next time you connect to the free Wi-Fi in the coffee shop, remember to use a VPN in order to hide your online activity and personal data.

This software will also hide your IP address and your device from being tracked by any cybercriminals who might be looking to steal financial or personal information.

Public Wi-Fi can be more dangerous than you think, especially when completing online shopping orders where credit card numbers and personal details are submitted to an online retailer.

Here are some qualities to look for in a VPN provider:

  • Cost: Is it free? Look up all pricing options and what fits best for you personally. If the service is free, check to see how they are justifying the free price. Are they spamming you with ads? Or selling your information to third parties?


  • Bandwidth: What are the data limits with the VPN service? Depending on how often you use the Internet and what you use it for, knowing data limits might help you make a better decision.


  • Privacy: The service provider should always disclose how they are protecting your privacy. Do they have a no-log policy in place that promises not to track your online activities?


  • Access: Can all of your mobile devices use a VPN? You should have no problem downloading and using a VPN on all of your devices at the same time.


Use credit cards

Most people have a variety of payment methods, usually either a debit card or several credit cards.

But in terms of cybersecurity, credit card companies are meant to keep your data (and money) protected.

Credit card companies have proper procedures in place to help monitor any suspicious activity or charges.

When making online purchases, using a credit card is a must as you’ll find it easier to report and resolve anything problems that you run into.

With the rise of identity fraud comes the increase in cybersecurity amongst companies who deal with sensitive financial data.

There are several purchase protection benefits offered by credit card companies:


  • Basic protection: All credit cards offer basic protection, which is covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act. This act protects you in a dispute over anything purchased with your credit card.


  • Purchase Security: This protection covers any damaged, stolen, or lost items that were purchased with your card.


  • Extended warranty: This adds to the manufacturer’s warranty on specific items bought with your card.


  • Return protection: If a seller won’t allow a return, this type of protection comes in to help you claim a refund. 


Check email with caution

Email accounts are one of the easiest ways for cybercriminals to scam consumers.

Through a variety of emailing tactics, phishing has become a popular way to gain financial information from unsuspecting users.

According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 32% of data breaches in 2018 involved phishing activity. There are several ways to spot these phishing attempts in order to protect your personal information. 

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Phishing Email

If you receive an email from a name that is not familiar to you or looks somewhat unprofessional or unusual, use your best judgement and delete it.

Sometimes phishing emails are either very obscure looking or very professional.

For example, the sender could be [email protected] or [email protected].

Oftentimes, these emails contain spelling and grammatical errors which you should be able to pick up on immediately.

Most professional companies and people will be sending you error-free messages. If an email contains some sort of attachment that isn’t labelled or looks strange, do not open it.

Cybercriminals use attachments in order to obtain more information from you. Opening these attachments could corrupt your device and possibly your email account with damaging viruses.

Subject lines are also another way to lure readers into opening an email. A lot of times, scam emails start with urgent questions or some sort of call to action. Whereas, if a company you were affiliated with were to email you, the subject line would make more sense.

For example, a phishing email subject line might look like this: “Sara – I need your help” or “Looking to get your advice on…” Phishing emails sometimes even contain a “RE:” subject line to make it seem like a response to you, in order to prompt you to open the message.

Be leary of this especially around the holiday season when scammers are trying to obtain financial information and lure consumers with holiday deals and other coupons. 


Make Unique Credentials

Most retail websites prompt users to make account credentials including a username and password.

In order to checkout, these credentials are often used to save credit card and shipping/address information.

If your user credentials somehow get hacked, your personal information could be discovered by a stranger who is looking to do some damage.

Always pay attention to your credentials and how you can keep them strong and safe.

Never use basic information about yourself that could be guessed by others, and always use a wide variety of characters.

If you can, opt-out of having a website save your credit card information.

Although it’s a hassle to always have to re-enter the information, at least you know it is safe.

Keep your credentials in some sort of password manager (instead of your notes app) in order to keep that information hidden from any prying eyes. If any sort of hack happened to your device, a note app is not going to protect your private credentials – so keep that in mind next time you create an account on a retail website. 


Final Thoughts on Cyber Security this Holiday Season

This holiday season, protect your personal information as much as possible in order to stay away from cybercrime of any kind. Pay attention to anything suspicious online and always think smart when interacting with the Internet. 

Use a software security program to help you stay safe when making online purchases. This way you can rest assured your information is kept secure.