Holiday Shopping: How to Stay Safe and Protected

Lauren Abshire
Director of Content Strategy United States Cybersecurity Magazine

With Christmas just around the corner and amidst a global pandemic, holiday shopping is at an all-time high. You click a few buttons and wham! You have Christmas delivered right to your door! Exciting stuff, I know.

However, in order to keep holiday shopping exciting (and safe!), you must practice vigilance! Cyber-criminals are stronger today than they were yesterday, and this is a pattern that is unfortunately continuing. As we have seen just this past year alone, no one, and no company, is exempt from a breach. Cyber-criminals are not relenting in their efforts to infiltrate our systems and take whatever they can get their hands on. We must not relent either.

How To Stay Secure While Holiday Shopping

Whether you are tech-savvy or not, there are ways to ensure you’re practicing caution and security in the online world.

First and foremost, when you’re holiday shopping on your favorite website, look for a Secure Socket Layer (SSL). SSL is a security certificate that enables encryption. When you look at the address bar of your website – for example, let’s say it’s Billy’s Discount Warehouse – if Billy’s Discount Warehouse is encrypted with an SSL, the web address should read “https://” (emphasis on the S). Now, perhaps Billy’s Discount Warehouse shows the SSL on the homepage but not on the clearance section of their home essentials. This does not mean the entire site is not secure. SSLs will protect your online transaction by encoding the data. In other words, it will not be visible to a cyber-criminal.

There are other indicators you can look for. For instance, you’re on the clearance section of Billy’s Discount Warehouse home essentials, and to the left of the web address a tiny little lock is there. This is a visual indication that the site is secure for the end-user (us!).

Are you Browsing on a New-to-You Website/Business?

Search this business on the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If this business is legitimate and certified by the BBB, you can check their complaints, issues they’ve had, how they’ve resolved it (if they have resolved it), and see how reputable this new-to-you business is. You can even go all the way and contact the company to verify through the BBB.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi!

It may be tempting to sign into public wi-fi while holiday shopping, to double-check family Christmas lists, or see if a store has an item. However, not only is your information more vulnerable, but you never know who is nearby and just waiting to steal your credit card number from the public server! With that being said, if you are out and about, grabbing lunch at your favorite local eatery, and a must-have sale hits, what can you do? Use a VPN or a Virtual Private Network. VPN’s allow you, as an end-user, to have anonymity on a public server. VPN’s create a secure connection, hides your IP address, and voila, your information is safe from an eager cyber-criminals eye.

Regularly Monitor your Banking Account Information.

Cyber-attacks strike always strike during the holiday shopping season because it’s a very busy and stressful time for most people. You may not know right away if your information has been compromised or stolen, so be sure to check regularly for any fraudulent charges. Sign up for text alerts. You can also use credit instead of debit. This will prevent direct access to the hard-earned money in your account, should your information be stolen. Not to mention that most credit cards offer zero liability for fraud.

Pick Strong Passwords!

This is something that is constantly stressed and for good reason. Using your dog’s name with your mother’s birthdate is easily guessed and therefore, it is not secure. Use a combination of complex numbers, letters, and symbols. Also, of course, do not repeat and reuse passwords. If Billy’s Discount Warehouse is breached and you used the same password for your bank account, you’re in for a rough Christmas. Your banking information could be severely at-risk.

Avoid Scams!

Whether it’s an email from Billy’s ABCD Donations, a tracking email you don’t quite recognize, or an email advertising a PS5 for only $100, do not open it and certainly don’t click the link! Only use trusted URLs. And if a holiday shopping deal seems way too good to be true, well, you know how the saying goes, it probably is! Delete the emails right away and report them as a scam.

Holiday shopping should be fun. Following these few easy steps, you can keep yourself, and your information, protected. Don’t let the fun turn into a nightmare. Also, don’t let cyber-criminals steal your information. Remain vigilant, stay safe, and practice good internet security.