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Safely Shopping Online During the Holidays

With the holiday season among us, shoppers are planning their search for those special gifts and scoping out where to find the slickest deals online.

A noticeable spike in online sales last year was caused by Cyber Monday ousting Black Friday to be ranked the highest shopping period of the holidays.

Shoppers this year are expected to dedicate close to half of their holiday shopping time on the web. The online bonanza is expected to increase yet again this year. Last year's number of online shoppers in the U.S. for Cyber Monday came in at a whopping 96.5 million compared the 79 million that waited in line for retail stores on Black Friday. With the surge of Cyber Monday’s online shopping now overshadowing Black Friday, one should also see a substantial increase of covert attempts by cyber-criminals to exploit the work of Santa’s helpers.

The bad guys routinely use a combination of methods to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. We need to remain wary and question everything that looks appealing, especially among the deals that look too good to be true. Schemes such as fake email campaigns, embedded links, intentionally misguided results from search engines, and messaging false ads from within social networks should be on your radar.

Because of the convenience, coziness, and serenity of shopping online, the playing field for these cyber threats grows wide and abroad during the holiday season. Interestingly enough, the workplace also inherits a higher occurrence of online threats during this period. This can be attributed to a substantial percentage of online shopping that occurs within the company’s network. According to research, approximately more than 50% of the $800 million spent last year during Black Friday and Cyber Monday was done so from within the workplace.

To help promote awareness and to keep the online shoppers safe, here are a few simple and effective tips to remember while shopping online this Christmas season:

  • Strong Passwords: The need for a strong password can’t be said enough. Remember to think passphrase rather than password. Combine words to make it amusing, and the easier it should be to remember.
  • Use trustworthy merchants: Review the merchant using sites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or the Federal Trade Commission. Take an extra minute to see if there have been any past issues with the company service or its products.
  • Secure online transactions: Whether at home or abroad, ensure your web session is using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). This will encrypt your credit card information before sending it out through the Internet. Always verify the URL of the site contains the ‘s’ in the https:// and that the lock icon is located in the bottom right corner of the browser.
  • Avoid scams: Be aware and suspicious of any unsolicited material that may find its way to your digital profile. There should also be no reason to give your financial information by way of phone, text, or email.
  • Pay only with credit cards: Do not pay with wire transfers or any other method besides a credit card. Doing so protects you in the event the credit card should get into the wrong hands. Debit card users should also take note - the grace period and terms for reporting fraud is significantly different compared to credit cards. Using a single card with a low line of credit or funds is also recommended for online purchases.
  • Review statements often: the BBB recommends you regularly review credit cards statements for any type of activity. Verify the cost paid for each online transaction to ensure you are not overcharged for any item.
  • Be aware of your rights: Review the company’s online policy for privacy, returns and shipping. Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail, or online must be shipped by the promised date and within 30 days if no delivery time is given. Outside of this and receiving defective goods, the company’s stated policy usually determines the outcome of a dispute.