Why fight parking-lot-road-rage, UFC-sanctioned-psycho-shoppers and 12 a.m.-midnight-start-times on Black Friday when you can shop from the comfort of your laptop or iPad while sipping eggnog on the couch (or more likely, from your office desk)? I’m talking about Cyber Monday, of course – the day that online merchants heavily discount their products and generally give free shipping as well. By shopping online, you get most of the same deals and discounts (some of them better) without the breakneck competition common in stores the day after Thanksgiving.
Online shopping during the holidays is a convenient, green, inexpensive way to celebrate the season with less stress. In fact, it’s such an efficient way to buy gifts that cyber shoppers will spend close to $2 Billion this coming Monday. If you are one of them, take a few steps to add peace-of-mind to your peaceful holidays.
How to Protect Your Private Data Online on Cyber Monday
- Never Shop on a Public Wi-Fi Connection – Although you may trust the baristas at your local coffee shop, you can’t always trust the person sitting next to you. Hackers can easily tap into Wi-Fi connections at public hot spots to steal your identity information. This can be especially dangerous when you are making purchases with your credit card on unsecured connections. Options: surf at home or set up Internet Tethering between your smartphone and laptop or tablet so that you are always surfing on an encrypted connection. Unlike most hot-spot transmissions, your mobile phone communications are encrypted and will give you Internet access from anywhere you can make a call.
- Never use a debit card online – If your card information is compromised, funds can be withdrawn from your bank account without your knowledge. Federal law states that your bank can take up to 2 weeks to investigate fraudulent activity before returning the funds to your account, which means you have nothing to spend in the meantime. In fact, if you don’t report the missing funds quickly, you could potentially lose all the money on deposit with your bank.
- Monitor Your Accounts – While you are doing a lot of shopping – online and in the store – it is good to keep an eye on your bank and credit card accounts. Match your receipts up to your statement to make sure that they are correct and there are no fraudulent charges. Keep an eye out for small charges, sometimes that is how crooks test to make sure they have a good card. For convenience, set up credit card account alerts that automatically email or text you every time you make a purchase. It makes detecting fraud a snap.
- Consider using a virtual or single-use credit card – Some card issuers offer virtual credit cards or single-use card numbers that can be used online. Virtual credit cards use a randomly generated substitute account number in place of your actual credit card number.
- Never “recycle” a password – Most online shopping sites encourage you to establish a user name and password. Password-protected sites are becoming more vulnerable because people regularly use the same user names and passwords on multiple websites. But do you really want an online retailer to know the password to your online bank account? If you are using the same password across many sites and your password for one site is breached, everything else is at risk. If you do decide to create a user name and password, make sure it is adequately strong. To assist the creation and safe storage of different passwords, use a password protection software like 1Password.
- Protect your passwords and personal data – Do not share your passwords with anyone and never provide your social security number, birth date or mother’s maiden name in an email.
- Only Shop on Trusted Websites – Don’t just let the search engine pick the site for you, make sure you are using a trusted and well-known website. Type in the direct web address for the stores you are familiar with, and don’t shop on price alone.
- Look for Signs They are Protecting Your Data – On the Web page where you enter your credit card or other personal information, look for an “s” after http in the Web address of that page and a secured padlock (as shown below). Encryption is a security measure that scrambles data as it travels through the Internet.
- Make sure all of your security software is up-to-date before you shop online – That includes anti-virus software, anti-spyware and firewalls.
Take a break on Black Friday. Who knows, maybe you’ll start to think of it as White Friday.