How to Stay Safe Shopping This Cyber (crime) Monday
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It’s hard to believe that in just a few days, the holiday shopping season will kick off yet again. Even for those of us not in the United States, post-Thanksgiving shopping have become a linchpin weekend of the retail calendar year and a prime opportunity to get your holiday gifts checked off the list. And if you’re anything like me, Cyber Monday holds a tremendous amount of appeal, especially because it means avoiding the Black Friday crowds.
Thanks to the pandemic, I’m sure last year’s Cyber Monday felt all the more important in the face of a scaled-back Black Friday. This year, it’s fair to expect Cyber Monday to still see higher than pre-pandemic levels. And of course, with more online shoppers come more online shenanigans. So, with that in mind, let’s remind ourselves of a few best practices for staying safe while snagging our Cyber Monday deals.
Be careful what you click: I’ve been getting “early” Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals in my email inbox for the last two weeks. As consumers, we’re inundated with calls to act fast lest we miss out on that next-gen toaster or BTS-branded selfie stick. These emails (and more frequently as of late, text messages) always include a link to take you to straight to the deal. The email may well be legit, but all too often it’s a sneaky phishing scam. In general, it’s best to avoid clicking links from email or text promotions; instead, go to the vendor’s website directly and search for the promotion there. Same goes for shipping notifications. If you buy something and get a shipping confirmation, double check the sender to ensure the email is really coming from the vendor from which you purchased. If you’re unsure, go to your account on the vendor’s site—you should be able to track your order there.
Vet your vendors: If you’re getting promo messages from vendors you aren’t familiar with, do some due diligence before buying. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker is a helpful tool for doing a bit of recon on an unfamiliar vendor. Here, you can see if a business has been flagged in the past for any below-board activities like phishing or selling counterfeit products.
Watch what information you share: When you’re buying your next-gen toaster, you shouldn’t be giving the vendor your social security number (SSN) and last five addresses. If a seller asks you to supply information that you wouldn’t typically supply in a retail transaction, approach it with extreme caution. If you want to understand why a seller is asking for specific information, don’t be afraid to reach out to them directly and ask them. Which also brings us to our next best practice…
Avoid using your debit card: Ideally, we won’t fall victim to fraud. But if we do, there are ways we can limit the damage. If a fraudster manages to get your debit card details, they can pull money directly from your bank account. And unfortunately, there aren’t as many protections against fraud in these cases as there are with credit card fraud. If someone manages to get a hold of your credit card, you’ll likely have more limitations on your liability, and you won’t endanger the funds already in your bank account.
Protect your credit card: Adding another “layer” between you and the seller can afford you some extra protection, too. Using your credit card through a payment system like Apple Pay or PayPal can aprevent the seller from receiving your credit card number. There are also a couple of tools you can deploy to protect your financial information. For example, make sure the online account that you use to manage your credit card has a strong, unique password. Using a password manager is a great way to ensure that you have a solid and differentiated password for every account. It’s also wise to ensure that you’re on a secure network when you’re completing your transaction. If you’re using a shared network, make sure you’re connected to a virtual private network (VPN).
Check your statements: Of course, even if you feel confident you’ve been shopping with reputable vendors, it’s always a good practice to review your credit card or bank statements regularly. Keep your email receipts for online purchases and use those to match any charges to your card. If you spot anything unusual (i.e., a charge you don’t recognize or a vendor charging you more than once for the same amount), report it immediately to your financial institution.
Stay safe, shoppers, and happy holidays!