Online Safety for Cyber Monday

Timely words of wisdom from Professor Roberts...

The appeal of online deals on Cyber Monday has been growing steadily for several years. This year it is estimated that sales will be about 19% above last year’s with $9.4 billion in sales on that day alone. For the first time this year, more Americans say they are planning to shop on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday. With numbers like that you can be sure that the scammers are out in force!

All the usual online shopping reminders are equally important for Cyber Monday. Among the key safe practices are:

  • Using a password manager. A password manager not only adds immeasurably to online safety, it is a huge convenience for things like filling out forms and making payments.
  • Using a VPN (virtual private network) for both online and mobile shopping activities.
  • Having a strategy for card usage. First, never use a debit card online. That gives hackers access to your entire bank account. Credit cards have a limit to loss as long as problems are reported promptly.

The initial article in this series recommended using only one credit card for Black Friday shopping. Consider extending that strategy by using only one (different) card for online shopping. Separating retail and online shopping makes it easier to monitor your accounts, which should be done frequently at this time of year. A third card for sites where you shop frequently is useful, and be careful about giving even those sites permission to save your payment information. The more sites that have your payment information, the greater the danger of being hacked. Examine your level of trust about a dozen times before you allow any site to save payment information.

Cyber Monday is such a tempting target that there are many focused scams, some achieving new prominence this year. All the usual safe practices apply, but here are some special things to watch out for:

  • Fake Cyber Monday deal apps. These can be hard to distinguish from the authentic retail apps, so the best idea is not to download them at all. They may be carriers of malware as well as promoters of fake deals. Go directly to the retail site to verify the deals.  If you are using mobile apps, download only trusted retail apps directly from the Apple Store or Google Play. Even then, look carefully at the source of the app before you download.
  • Fake websites. There’s one report that as many as 100,000 fake websites have been created to take advantage of holiday shoppers. There are two important ways to respond:
    • Once again the year-round advice of being sure the link is valid is important.
    • Shop for deal on retail sites, not search engines. Many of the fake sites are so good they come up high in search results.
  • Scams delivered by email. These are so prevalent that it’s best, at least for the holiday season, not to open any links or attachments in emails that look like they are from retailers. They often lead to fake sites. Again, check out the bargains directly on the retail site. Even tracking emails can be faked. Instead of clicking on the link, copy the tracking number, go directly to the delivery site and paste number in there.
  • Pop-ups. They have a high probability of leading to dangerous sites. Don’t click on them. Even ads that look legitimate can be a problem, so look carefully at the URL and other site information if you click on them. Better, go directly to the retail site. If the deal is legitimate, it will be on the retail site. Free offers should be avoided altogether.

Remember to:

  • Be sure your device security software is up to date. Be sure your connection is safe. Using a VPN, especially on your mobile phone, adds another layer of safety.
  • Check your credit card transactions on a regular basis.

Shopping online is a wonderful convenience. Staying safe is a matter of taking reasonable precautions and not being lured into phony deals. Add safety to convenience, and have a wonderful shopping experience!


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