How to Shop Safely on Cyber Monday and Beyond

If you think that the definition of a savvy shopper is just someone who knows how to find the best deals online, think again! In today’s online world, getting the most for your money is the least of a smart shopper’s worries; this time of year, cyber thieves kick into high gear, looking to profit from you and your private information. Since Cyber Monday, known as the start of the online holiday shopping season, is quickly approaching, keep these security facts in mind so that you can stay a step ahead of the scammers.

Cyber Monday Madness – It’s Only Days Away

This coming Monday, November 30, is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday refers to the Monday following Black Friday – the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, and the kickoff of retail holiday shopping. The sentiment behind it is that, after the Black Friday weekend, consumers return to their offices and begin making the purchases online that they weren’t able to make in brick-and-mortar stores.1 Whether on Cyber Monday or shortly after, shoppers will soon be turning to the Web in droves to find the best holiday deals.

On Monday, you’re bound to see many of your favorite retailers offering lower prices or special promotions. Take full advantage of these online deals, but just make sure to realize that sale season also means scam season – and you’ll need to have your guard up, and your PC locked down!

‘Tis the Season...For Threats Aplenty

As the shopping season takes off, so will the cyber scams. Each year, we see new statistics on how consumers are staying online to buy gifts rather than braving crowded roadways and malls. According to a survey from PriceGrabber.com, this year, nearly 70 percent of all consumers plan on researching or comparison shopping online for the holiday season.

There’s little wonder why cyber thieves go into high gear this time of year. They simply follow the money to make the most profits. US online sales are expected to rise this year by 8 percent, according to a report from Forrester Research, Inc. Online retails sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion.2

In this year’s run-up to the holiday season, Lavasoft malware analysts have already seen a 391 percent increase in the amount of malware detected and added to Ad-Aware’s threat database, compared to the same period last year.

How to Stay Safe As You Shop

To help you stay safe and protect your computer as you browse and buy on the Web, Lavasoft’s partner Identity Finder has provided the following “Top Twelve” online shopping tip list. Stay secure and a step ahead of the cyber criminals this holiday season with these tips:

  1. Avoid Phishing Attacks: Before typing your username and password to enter a site, make sure the website address is correct. Do not click on links from e-mails you receive. Microsoft acknowledged in October that over 10,000 Live Hotmail accounts were compromised by a phishing scam.
  2. Don’t trust “scareware”: Do not click on advertisements claiming you might be infected with a virus. Rogue ads recently started popping up on sites like The New York Times that purport you have a virus only to trick you into downloading malware. Rely on your system anti-virus for this.
  3. Beware Who You Friend: Fake profiles have become very popular on social networking sites like Facebook. Holiday time is an excuse for people to purport they want to get back in touch. Protect the privacy of your profile by rejecting anyone you do not know. Do not post your full birth date including the year.
  4. Don’t Shop in Public (online!): If buying something online, use your own computer. Don’t use public computers while on vacation at hotels or airports. Public computers can have keyloggers that record your information as you type it.
  5. Create Complex Passwords: When creating passwords at stores, use upper and lower case with numbers. Use at least seven characters and don’t choose a word from a dictionary. Passwords can be guessed very quickly by hacker programs. If you need help remembering all your different passwords, use a Password Vault or Manager to secure them all.
  6. Always Update Definitions: Anti-malware programs such as anti-virus or anti-spyware can only detect malware for which they have definitions. Download the latest definitions whenever they are available to prevent brand new attacks.
  7. Use SSL (aka the padlock!): A term you might not have heard of, but you probably have seen that little padlock in your web browser near the address bar or in the bottom right corner. Make sure it’s there when entering personal information as it indicates your information is protected. Do not press submit if there is no padlock at a store.
  8. Install Latest Software Upgrades: Upgrade your operating system, web browsers, and media applications with the latest versions. Hackers are always looking for ways to create new holes in existing software so they can steal your data. Software vendors patch these holes with upgrades. A recent banking Trojan stole money after infecting web browsers.
  9. Don’t Give Personal Information Over Live Chat: When shopping online you might see a Live Chat window appear letting you ask questions to a customer representative. Never give them your credit card number or other personal details.
  10. Check Your Credit: Visit annualcreditreport.com (and not other knock off websites with similar names) before and after the holidays so you can verify no unauthorized credit cards are opened under your name and no large purchases were made without you knowing. Your credit report shows all your accounts and overdue balances.
  11. Use Onetime Credit Cards: If you aren’t familiar with a store, use a virtual credit card that expires after one use. Some websites masquerade as shops but really just steal your credit card numbers.
  12. Protect Your Identity: Do not keep unprotected copies of your identity on your computer. Most people have typed their Social Security Number into an application or credit card number into an e-mail but forgot it was saved in their computer. Use Identity Finder Free or manually search your computer to find and protect anything that could be used to commit identity fraud if seen by a hacker.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber_Monday

2 http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSTRE5A13RO20091103?feedType=nl&feedName=ustechnology

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BY THE NUMBERS
There’s little wonder why cyber thieves go into high gear this time of year – they simply follow the money to make the most profits. US online sales are expected to rise this year by 8%. Online retails sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion.
Source: Forrester Research, Inc, Reuters
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