As the holiday times approach, many of us increase our online shopping. But if the last years have taught us anything, it is that online criminals have figured out that hacking into the IT systems of retail stores is an easy way to make money. Over the last couple of years there were many major retail stores whose customer data was stolen or whose POS systems (Point of Sale systems… their electronic cash registers) were compromised in order to steal customer credit card numbers.
In the end the burden of security ultimately rests on your shoulders. So here are five simple things you can do to protect yourself from holiday shopping hacks:
1. Shop at trusted online retailers
Search engines will lead you to that perfect present no matter where it is, but if you’ve never seen or heard of the retailer before then think twice before entering your credit card and all your personal information.
2. Don’t shop from the free café Wi-Fi
Public, unsecured Wi-Fi access points can be very easily tampered with; the person sitting next to you could be sniffing and recording every transmission, using simple algorithms to identify credit card numbers and ID information. Use a secured Wi-Fi and a VPN for your shopping. Consider also using a dedicated e-mail address just for shopping.
3. Use a credit card instead of a debit card
Credit card companies usually have policies in place to protect users from fraud and limit your personal liability. In addition, many credit card companies offer extended warranties and return policies during holiday shopping season.
4. Be careful where you click
Retailers ramp up their e-mail marketing during the holiday season, but e-mails can be easily spoofed by hackers. Instead of automatically following the URL link from an e-mail offer, consider going directly to the retail vendor’s website and then looking for the product you want. Also be aware of phony emails from UPS and other shippers claiming that “your package could not be delivered.” Often these e-mails contain attachments that install spyware and keyloggers.
5. Patch your computer before you go shopping
If haven’t gotten around to installing that software patch or antivirus security update, now might be a good time to do so. Most hacks prey on the short window of time between when vulnerability is discovered and when the software vendors patch the hole. If you are not installing the patch, then the hole is still wide open on your computer and you are just asking for trouble. You feel like it’s too much work to update everything on your own? Then a software updater might be the ideal solution for you!
If you take the precautions above your online shopping experience will be safe and sound.