According to a recent survey, 87 percent of U.S. adults feel that the risk of becoming a victim of a cybercrime is growing.1 In fact, online crimes including server breaches are the single largest criminal threat facing small businesses.
For large and small businesses alike, it should come as no surprise that more Americans have been shopping online due to the COVID-19 pandemic - and this trend will likely continue even when the pandemic subsides. In fact, with Cyber Monday approaching, these numbers are expected to rise. In 2019, Cyber Monday shattered the online sales record with $9.4 billion in revenue - and that was before social distancing.2
This means that protecting yourself when you shop online is something you need to take seriously. These seven tips can help holiday online shoppers safeguard information when buying from an online retailer.
Tip #1: Create Secure Passwords
Your password is the first line of defense - meaning you’ll want to make it a strong one. Avoid simple, easy to figure out passwords like “Pass1234” or “0000” - even pet names, birthdays, and anniversary dates are sometimes easy for hackers to figure out.
If your web browser or password management software supports the ability to generate random passwords, this can be the safest option. If you do not have that option, create a password free from full words, names, dates, phone numbers or addresses. The longer the password and the more random the series of characters, the more difficult it will be for hackers to crack.
Don't forget to change your passwords on a regular basis and avoid keeping a list of your passwords on your computer, unless that list is encrypted and stored with a reputable password management software such as LastPass, DashLane, etc.
Tip #2: Protect Your Passwords
Always use a different password for each site or service you use. This is an important step in preventing hackers from gaining access to all of your other accounts if one becomes compromised. Avoid sharing your password with others, even friends and family. If another person's computer is hacked, this could put your personal information in danger as well. You can see if you have been breached by visiting haveibeenpwned.com and make sure to change passwords for those sites and any others that share the same password.
Tip #3: Invest in Quality Cybersecurity Software
If you don’t have it already, seriously consider installing cybersecurity software on your computer, including anti-virus and anti-malware. This software can help identify and prevent viruses from downloading to your computer system. While there are free programs available, they don’t always provide the latest updates. There are low-cost cybersecurity options to choose from, and their small upfront cost can be worth it to safeguard your personal information.
Tip #4: Be Very Wary of Links
In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid clicking on any links you receive in an email, text message, social media app, or chat - especially if they’re from a stranger or unfamiliar company. It’s entirely too easy for hackers to make links appear trustworthy or look like they’re coming from a reliable source, when in reality they’re not. When at your computer, always “hover” your mouse pointer over the link to verify its authenticity before clicking it.
Also be sure to look at the sender’s email address if it seems suspicious to make sure it wasn’t spoofed. If you’re unsure about the validity of a link, call – don’t email – the sender to verify the legitimacy of the link, if possible. Otherwise, type the known and trusted URL directly into your browser’s address bar instead of clicking the link.
Tip #5: Don't Put Yourself at Risk
The internet is immense, and there are some parts you simply want to stay away from. Visiting certain types of sites such as certain discussion forums, file-sharing sites, and streaming services can lead to an increased likelihood of downloading a virus to your computer.
As an online shopper, you’ll want to be especially vigilant of sites that appear to boast too-good-to-be-true offers or list items for sale at a substantially lower price than others. If it does not appear to be reputable, it could be putting your computer or personal information in danger.
Tip #6: Don't Use Debit Cards Online
Once you make a purchase with a debit card, the money is immediately deducted from your bank account. If a cybercriminal gains access to your debit card information, the criminal can quickly drain your bank account. While you may get your money back, you will likely not have access to your funds until your bank resolves the issue. Instead, use a credit card and let your credit card company worry about it.
Tip #7: Check Your Credit Score for Changes
Set aside a day each month to check your credit score - maybe make it a habit to check on the same day you pay your bills each month. There are several sites that offer free credit scores, and many banks, credit cards, or credit unions offer the service to their customers. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service for extra protection.
Cybercrime is scary, but it is part of modern-day life. Taking precautions like those above can help you lower your chances of becoming another victim.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information and is provided by Strategic Financial Planning, Inc. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information only. Please consult professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.