Council Post: Holiday Shopping Cybersecurity Tips

Hari Ravichandran is the CEO and Founder of Aura™, a technology company dedicated to simplifying digital security for consumers

The holiday season is upon us, and as we embrace new shopping traditions in a year like no other, we can expect to see online traffic at an all-time high as consumers stay home and search for gifts from the comfort and safety of their homes. Unfortunately, while we adjust our typical holiday activities amid the pandemic, identity thieves and fraudsters remain at the ready to take advantage of the accelerated e-commerce boom that’s driving more shoppers online earlier than in years past.

Why Is This Risky Business?

Hackers like money, and there is plenty of it during the holidays. Holiday shopping this year is estimated to increase between 1% and 2.6% for the three-month period beginning in October compared to last year, which generated $1.1 trillion in sales, according to AlixPartners. As shoppers spend more time and money online, they’re sharing their sensitive data and payment information across countless sites and platforms, putting them at a higher risk of being targeted by hackers than ever before.

Fortunately, there are a few simple cybersecurity tips that consumers can use to help protect their data and information for a merry holiday season.

1. Keep An Eye Out For Phishy Behavior

Be vigilant with your inbox. Phishing — when a hacker sends an email appearing to be from a familiar or reputable company to get personal details like credit card information — is a common method that hackers employ during the holidays. Review all emails closely, especially those appearing to come from retailers with promotions. Remember, a reputable seller will never request credit card details via email. With that in mind, do not open any attachments or click embedded links. Instead, go directly to the retailer’s website and search for the promotions there. The extra legwork is worth your security.

2. Use Alternative Payments

According to survey results, shoppers most frequently pay for their holiday purchases using debit cards. When it comes to cybersecurity, think about using an alternate payment method such as a credit card or a third-party online payment system like PayPal or Venmo.

Thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers are liable only up to $50 in fraudulent charges. fMost major credit card companies, including Visa, MasterCard and American Express, offer policies that afford customers zero-liability protection. Completing purchases using PayPal and Venmo are also good alternatives to debit cards as the store never directly receives your financial information through these third parties. In the event your digital information becomes compromised, you can rest assured that you’re protected against fraudulent charges.

3. Shop Small

For hackers, the street cred for taking down a large retailer follows the adage: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Well-known retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart, and platforms like Etsy and Shopify, are at risk of being targeted and breached during the holiday shopping season. Shopping with smaller businesses may reduce the risk, and it allows you to support local businesses during this important season.

For consumers who choose to shop with larger retailers, be sure to reset account passwords once you finish your holiday shopping. Doing so will help prevent exposure in any potential data breaches following the holiday shopping season.

4. Diversify Your Passwords

You’ve heard it before, but are you actually using different passwords for different sites and platforms? The more diversified passwords you have, the more difficult it will be for your accounts to be hacked. This is the easiest thing you can do this holiday shopping season to safeguard your digital information. In fact, there are many password managers you can use or gift to someone else to ensure your loved ones’ cybersecurity year-round.

5. Spot A Shady Website

There are several tell-tale signs that the site you’re shopping from may not be reputable, starting with its address. Check to see if “https” appears in the URL. The “S” indicates the website is secured by an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate, making the connection secure and safeguarding the sensitive data that passes from you, the customer, to the retailer. While you’re looking at the address, verify the brand is not in a subdomain; be sure you’re shopping from retailer.com and not retailer.buy.com.

Overall, review the site for misspellings, grammar mistakes and even low-quality images — all are a giveaway that a site may not be legitimate. Lastly, look for an email or phone number on the contact page and verify validity. Double-checking when making online purchases is an extra (but worthwhile) step that will help you spot a shady website.

Ensuring A Happy And Secure Holiday Season

With these easy-to-follow tips, consumers can try to keep their holiday season merry and bright — something we all need this year. It’s important to be aware of the risks when online shopping, but with the proper precautions, you can stay safe while still making sure the stockings are stuffed. Let’s believe in the magic of the holidays but approach this shopping season armed with security tips and a healthy dose of skepticism to find fraud before you fall for it.


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