UNITED STATES—The National Retail Federation reports most people start their holiday shopping in November. That means sometime soon, you’re more likely to open Chrome to hunt down a gift for a loved one than to check the weather.
Online shopping makes your task this holiday a lot easier. You get to skip the overcrowded malls and stay home where you can shop from your favorite spot in front of the TV. The background to every online shopper is different for everyone. While you may choose to shop while watching the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, your neighbor might prefer to scroll through online stores while listening to BTS’ Love Yourself.
Despite your differences, every online shopper is united by one thing: the need for cybersecurity. However you curate your shopping experience, you can make sure you’re protected by following the tips found below.
- Use multiple passwords
A password is your first line of defence against cyber theft, protecting everything from your Instagram profile to your online banking account. Now that nearly every app you use and website you visit requires a login, it’s especially important to use distinct passwords for each profile. Overexposure weakens an otherwise strong password, so reusing the same basic password could get you into trouble.
Security experts suggest each of these passwords be at least eight characters and contain the following:
- Upper- and lower-case letters
- Special characters
Though a password like Fluffy1! technically satisfies the rules above, it isn’t the strongest password because it contains the name of your cat. Passwords that have important names or dates are easy to crack, so stay away from pets, birthdays, and phone numbers.
- Recognize a phishing scam
The average person likes to think they know when they’re being scammed. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, they aren’t as savvy as they think they are. According to Google, the best phishing campaigns manage to trick people 45 percent of the time.
As a precaution, the tech company suggests “stay vigilant” when clicking through your inbox, but what does this mean in practice?
Phishing scams have evolved from their modest beginnings as the Nigerian Prince asking for your details in hilariously broken English. Some of the most successful phishing emails look like they’re from reputable brands you interact with regularly. Even Google was once the front of a large phishing scam targeting people’s Google Docs accounts. These scammers used Google’s brand and icons to make their email look legitimate, so people would click on their links.
While the look of sophisticated phishing scams may be convincing, the content is usually never realistic. Though they may pose as a trusted tech giant, bank, or online lender, they’ll behave in a way these companies would never act by asking you to reply directly to their email — usually with your contact and financial information.
Why is this strange?
Think it through. When you secure short term loans online with a lender like MoneyKey, you would have already given this information when you first applied. Though an online lender may send you emails, they would redirect you to MoneyKey.com to update your payday loans account. They would never ask you to reply with your credit card number in the body of the email.
Be mindful of the links you see in these emails
If you’re using Chrome, you can see the full URL without clicking on it. It shows up at the bottom of your web browser when you hover your mouse of the link. If you notice it doesn’t include the actual website of your trusted financial institution, then you need to flag the email as a scam.
- Install or update your antivirus software
No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. There will come a time when you do, too. Maybe it’s when can’t get to sleep. Fed up with lying in the dark, you pull out your laptop and start scrolling through deals at 3 a.m. With your critical thinking skills dulled due to the time, you might click on something you shouldn’t.
Antivirus software is your safety net for when you make a mistake online. This program runs on your computer 24/7 and provides virus, firewall, and malware protection as you browse. It constantly reviews requests and scans downloadable files before they can infect your computer.
This software is necessary even if you plan to shop from a familiar website like Amazon. According to CNBC’s All-America Economic Survey, 75 percent of American shop from this e-commerce giant most of the time. Whether you’re part of this group of devoted shoppers or you’re willing to shop at less popular websites, you should have an antivirus software accompany your every visit.
If you already have this software downloaded, make sure it’s not nearing its expiry. If you don’t have one, use this guide to help you find the right software for your browsing habits. Whichever program you choose, don’t think it’s a catchall for your cybersecurity. While an integral part of safe web browsing, it’s not invincible.
Your safety online is your responsibility. You need to take an active role in your security. Luckily, this guide is a great place to start. Keep these tips in mind to protect your personal data whenever and wherever you shop online. They can prevent an accidental leak of your financial information any time you skip the lines for a digital shopping experience. Whether during the holidays or in the middle of the summer, these tips will help keep you and your data safe.