The holiday season is a wonderful time of year. Summer is upon us, families are getting together, and for the shopaholics among us, some of the biggest shopping dates of the year. Black Friday Sales, Boxing Day Sales, there are some massive sales coming up, no matter what you’re looking at buying. And with so much online commercial activity going on, the holiday season is a prime period for bad actors to penetrate your network and steal important information.
If you’re looking to do any of your holiday shopping online this year, security software—such as Bitdefender Total Security—is a must for keeping your devices protected, and is full of tools and automated scans to help you avoid heartache while shopping. Holistic security suites such as Bitdefender are handy as they offer protection for a number of devices (up to 10 devices for Bitdefender), and also offer Safe Online Banking tools and included VPNs (more on those later). However, it is also crucial to do your own due diligence and use common sense before sharing financial information anywhere (both online, and at retail stores).
To help you shop safely this year, we’ve put together the following essential tips to ensure you, your devices, and your loved ones are staying protected during the busiest shopping period of the year.
Be password smart
Some shopping sites let you check out as a guest, just giving the one-time information needed for your transaction. Others require you to create a login identity complete with password and username (or you may choose to on sites that you buy from regularly). Remembering passwords is tough, so you may be tempted to just recycle the same password over and over. Don’t! Hackers know that many people indulge in password recycling, so when they gain access to credentials from one retailer, they quickly try the credentials at other, similar sites. If you don’t want to remember multiple passwords, the best solution to create strong, secure ones is to use a password manager, which are available standalone but are often included in security suites such as the aforementioned Bitdefender Total Security.
Use familiar websites
Start at a trusted site. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off. We all know Amazon carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Myer to The Good Guys and JB-HiFi. Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com.au, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, sales on these sites might look enticing, but that’s how they trick you into giving up your info.
Don’t overshare online
Speaking of personal information, be wary when online stores ask for more than they need. If a site’s checkout form includes data fields that aren’t in any way necessary for the transaction, that’s a sign you may want to reconsider the purchase. If those fields are marked as required, that’s worse. But if you are desperate to go ahead, just lie! Fill the irrelevant required fields with made-up data.
Avoid public wi-fi
This one hasn’t been difficult for many of us in the last couple of years. But while in theory, you can shop electronically no matter where you are. In practice, you’re better off staying at home to shop. If you use public Wi-Fi like in a café or shopping centre, there’s a chance your transaction could be being watched by prying eyes. Even if you think you’ve connected to a known, safe Wi-Fi network, nothing prevents a scammer from setting up a portable Wi-Fi hotspot with an SSID that’s the same as that of your favourite coffee shop. Sometimes circumstances may require that you do your shopping while out and about. You can improve your security by turning off Wi-Fi and just using cellular data while shopping.
Use a VPN
Even if you’re shopping on a familiar website, from your home computer, there is still valuable information that can be scraped from your online interactions. Your IP Address is often visible to anyone who knows where to look. This can provide cyber criminals with not only your exact location, but often all the other devices that are connected to your network at any given time. To avoid this, the simplest solution is to install a VPN (or Virtual Private Network). This will encrypt your communications and prevent any possibility of snooping. It’s also just a great habit to get into, as a good VPN (Bitdefender Premium VPN being a good example of this) will provide protection without slowing down your network speeds too much.
Watch your back
Another benefit to shopping from home: nobody potentially looking over your shoulder. When you whip out your credit card and start typing the number into a website, nearby snoops have an opportunity to see and memorise the number. You can foil shoulder-surfers by staying alert, sitting with your back to the wall, and keeping your screen shielded. Better yet, use your password manager to fill in saved credit card data, while the card itself stays safe in your wallet.
Check your bank statements regularly
Don’t wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly during the holiday season and look at electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Look for any fraudulent charges, even originating from payment sites like PayPal and Venmo. (After all, there’s more than one way to get your money.) Always keep track of your purchases online, and you will know straight away if something is awry.
Once you have yourself and your devices fully kitted out with a proper antivirus or total security suite, you can’t just rest on your laurels. Online threats are becoming more and more sophisticated every year, and you need to ensure you’re up to date with all the latest threats, as well as tips and tricks from cyber security professionals. On top of their security services, Bitdefender also has a security blog that is consistently updated as the industry shifts and threats evolve. Get real-time updates about malware outbreaks and scams on the Bitdefender Blog.