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How to stay safe online this holiday season

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We have finished the Thanksgiving Holiday and started the Christmas shopping season. There is no doubt that the parking lots will be filled with last minute shoppers getting gifts for family and friends. However, many will opt to stay at home in the comforts of their jammies and smartphone technology, to shop online instead.

Why not? After all, you don’t have to fight through traffic to get a parking spot, nor wait in long lines at the checkout counter. In just a matter of a few clicks, you can purchase all your gifts and have them instantly shipped off.

Don’t get too comfortable!

The cyber attacker is also watching your every move. You need to take all the steps you can to not only protect yourself – but your financial information as well.  Here are some tips to follow:

  • Be careful of the WIFI hotspot that you are using:

Probably one of the most comfortable places to do your online shopping is sitting at your nearest Starbuck’s Café, sipping coffee and logging onto the wireless hotspot. Be careful of this!  Many sophisticated cyber attackers are now transforming these legitimate hotspots into fake ones, which are also known as “honeypots”.  This is where your passwords and financial information can be easily hijacked.  Always look around the walls at the Starbuck’s Café (or for that matter, any other place that you visit) and see the sign which posts the legitimate hotspot name. As an extra security precaution, ask to speak to the store manager to confirm that this is indeed the legitimate name of the hotspot.

  • Be cautious about using your password:

Yes, passwords are still the weakest link in the security chain, but we use them daily.  We have so many of them to remember that in the end, we use the same password for all our online accounts.  While this might be convenient and easy to do, keep in mind that this is also a huge security risk.  For example, if a Cyber attacker hijacks this password, then he or she can gain access to each of your online accounts.  Try to use different passwords for different accounts, and at the very least, use a different password for all your online banking and financial accounts.

  • Don’t ever let online merchants keep your credit card number on file:

As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit.  For instance, once we have found an online store that fits our shopping needs, we’ll shop there more often.  Then after a period of time, we want to have our credit card information stored with the online merchant.  After all, you have shopped there so much it should be safe, Right?  WRONG! If the servers of the online merchant that store your credit card information get hacked into, then your credit card will be stolen, and it may be a long time until you discover that it happened.  Therefore, never ever let your online merchant keep your credit card number on file, and keep checking your online account at least twice a day to make sure that there are no fraudulent activities occurring.

  • Always make sure the website you are visiting is secure:

Just as much as Wi-Fi hotspots can be faked, so can websites.  In fact, this is one of the biggest cyber based threats out there – visiting a phony website which looks like the real thing and submitting your credit card info.  One of the best ways to make sure you are at a secure and legitimate website is to check the web address.  If there is the “HTTPS” (note that the S stands for secure), then this means you are at a safe website.  Always read the Home Page to check for any spelling errors, typos, etc. These are telling signs as well.  If you still have doubts, always call the online merchant to confirm the authenticity of their website.  Remember this key rule:  If you don’t get a good feeling at a particular website, then the chances are it is a fake one.

We have provided some guidelines as to how you can shop safely online.  While this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, the areas reviewed in this blog are ones which the cyber attacker tends to prey upon.  In the end, remember the best line of defense is to always trust your gut:  If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

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