Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Safely Shop on Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving (this year, that's November 28th). Like Black Friday, it's a day for holiday shopping, and it is becoming bigger and bigger with each passing year. In fact, some analysts predict that Cyber Monday could outstrip Black Friday this year in total dollars spent. And that isn't surprising, if you consider how pervasive online shopping has become over the last decade. After all, who hasn't bought something (or more likely, many hundreds of things) off of Amazon?

But Cyber Monday can pose risks if you aren't careful. Thankfully, there are a number of simple preventive measures you can take to safeguard against theft. To ensure your information is secure and safe, follow these tips on Cyber Monday. Whether you're shopping from your phone or your computer, you can't be too safe or too cautious.

Use Different Passwords

If you maintain multiple accounts on e-commerce websites, it's best that you use multiple passwords for each. Any website with stored credit card information should be treated with the utmost respect and care; don't use simple passwords, and don't use passwords that you've used elsewhere. If you are concerned that you won't be able to remember multiple passwords for multiple sites, consider using an online password manager. There are a multitude of password managers to choose from, many of which are completely free.

Keep Your Mobile and Desktop OS Up-to-Date

Your operating system, whether on your smartphone or your computer, acts as a front-line deterrent against malware, viruses, and other potentially harmful online risks. To protect your private data and credit card information, it is important that you regularly update your operating system. If you shop online using your phone or tablet, you may also consider getting a phone with built-in security features. Mobile processors such as Snapdragon by Qualcomm offer a number of built-in security features that can help with malware detection, theft deterrence, content protection, and user authentication on your phone. Buy a phone that helps protect your data for you.

Don't Use Public Wi-Fi to Shop

No matter what, don't shop on a public, unprotected Wi-Fi network. The dangers of open Wi-Fi networks are well documented, but if you are unfamiliar with the dangers, the basic risk is this: open Wi-Fi networks leave you vulnerable to identity theft, including theft of private financial information, such as bank account and credit card numbers. If you choose to shop from your smartphone or tablet, do so over a secure cellular network or protected Wi-Fi network, or install a virtual private network (VPN) on your mobile device. These applications encrypt private data, offering a helpful barrier against would-be hackers.

Shop from Trusted Retailers

Sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective one. If you shop only from trusted retailers, you can minimize your risk of identity theft and fraud. Most major retailers maintain SSL certification on their websites. Sites with an SSL certificate are more secure than those without, and are easily identified by two distinct features: an HTTPS web address, and a padlock icon in the domain field, which is placed in front of the web address. Retailers like J. Crew and Walmart have SSL certificates on their websites, while others, like Target, surprisingly do not (as of this writing).

Disable Cookies

Cookies are small pieces of digital information or data that are stored by your web browser. Typically, cookies are intended to help improve the user experience by storing information that may be used later. For example, your web browser may remember your shipping address or contact information; when you activate an input field, your browser may automatically input this data or suggest it for quicker data entry. It certainly is convenient, there is no doubt about that. But this information is often of a sensitive and private nature, and should your device become lost or stolen, this data could end up in the wrong hands. For peace of mind and added security, disable cookies on your device.

Shop Smart. Shop Safe.

There's no reason to be afraid of shopping on Cyber Monday. But that isn't an excuse to become complacent either. Taking simple precautionary measures can help ensure your personal and private data isn't stolen or leaked, and this in turn can guarantee a safe, pleasant, and trouble-free shopping experience this holiday season. Happy shopping and happy holidays!

Samantha Rivers is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago (Go Cubs!) and loves writing anything in the lifestyle, parenting and career realm both online and print. When she's not running the Upward Onward blog, she enjoys curling up with a good book, finding new restaurants, being active outside, and indulging in a glass of wine or two. 

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