Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) has become a shopping tradition for bargain-hunting holiday shoppers. Cyber Monday (the following Monday) rivals Black Friday and appeals especially if you don’t want to face the shopping crowds. If you want to shop the virtual stores, here are a few tips to help you shop safely – not only on Cyber Monday, but every day.
Up to date. Before you start shopping, make sure to update everything on the device you’re using. That includes your operating system, apps, and browser(s). Make sure you have a good anti-virus program installed and run regular scans for malware and viruses. If you are using a phone or tablet, your first line of defense is to password protect the device the minute you buy it. If you haven’t done it, do it now.
The password is not password. Get in the habit of creating strong passwords and don’t use the same one for each shopping site. If you haven’t updated passwords for online accounts, do it before you shop. It’s hard to create really strong passwords, and to manage multiple passwords, so you may want to consider a password manager to do the hard work for you.
Keep it private. It may be tempting to sip a latte and do your holiday shopping in a cozy café. Don’t. It’s too easy for hackers to steal your information when you use public Wi-Fi. Consider creating an email account that you use for shopping only. It will keep commercial emails out of your personal account and may help you keep track of your purchases. You may even want to use one browser for shopping and another for everyday online activity. Be sure to log out of accounts and close your browser between purchases. Remember – never send payment information via email or enter it on an unsecured website.
Think before you click. You’re cruising your Facebook page; you see an adorable kitten story and click to another website. While you’re there, you see an ad for the cutest bunny slippers ever at a great price. Stop. Do not click. Are you sure it’s a legitimate vendor site? Check online with the Better Business Bureau. Do an internet search, looking for an address and telephone number, and using search terms like complaints and reviews. If you have any doubts, don’t go any further.
Credit, not debit. You’ll be paying with some kind of electronic account, so make sure it’s the one with the most protection. The problem a debit card is that it goes right into your bank account and removes the funds. It may not offer much protection if there’s a problem with the purchase and you want a refund, or if it is used for a fraudulent purchase. A credit card usually offers more protection. While you’re at it, don’t store card numbers in online merchant accounts. Sure, it’s convenient, but if the retailer is hacked, your data is exposed.
Is it really a bargain? Be sure to do some comparison shopping. Remember to include any shipping and/or return fees in your calculations, and don’t forget that your purchases may be taxable. Make sure you are making good comparisons and don’t focus on price alone. You may find a better deal at a local retailer.
Too good to be true. Your Auntie Zelda is so hard to buy for. She loves whimsical teapots but you’ve looked and looked and can’t find the perfect one. A friend suggests you look on online-classified pages and there it is! The only problem is that the seller wants you to send money via wire transfer or an escrow service. Sounds safe enough, doesn’t it? A week later you haven’t received the teapot, you can’t contact the seller, and your money is gone. Think twice if you can’t meet the seller in person, in a public place, to make the purchase. Many police departments now have safe exchange zones in their parking lots where you can make your transaction.
Check your accounts. It’s always a good practice to keep a close eye on your bank and credit card accounts. The sooner you spot suspicious activity, the sooner you can limit your exposure.
Ready for Cyber Monday? Shop safely online and take some of the stress out of the holidays.