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Black Friday and Cyber Monday: are you ready to shop … safely?

By Nathan Brown on 18 Nov, 2014

A savvy shoppers’ guide

The respective countdowns to the big Black Friday and Cyber Monday pre-Christmas shopping sprees are well and truly on for millions of saving-conscious people here in the UK and all over the world. Scouring the internet for amazing online deals is something that’s likely to become an even more important part of their daily routines as they expectantly tick off the days remaining until Friday, November 28 (Black Friday) and Monday, December 1 (Cyber Monday) arrive. Unfortunately, in their zeal to take advantage of the promised savings, there are many shoppers who end up falling prey to the wiles of cyber fraudsters and scammers.

So here are some tips to keep your shopping safe and secure this festive season … that’s before, during and after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

  • - Always value the credibility of the website over the cost-effectiveness of the deal

It’s not at all unusual to see e-commerce websites that most of us have never heard about popping out of the woodwork with unbelievable offers for us to cash in on at this time of the year. Unfortunately, many of these sites are just too good to be true. Quite a few of them only serve as fronts for scams aimed at deceiving people to input sensitive financial information such as credit card personal identification numbers (PINs). That’s one of the main reasons why it’s always best to stick to the websites that you know and trust. Even if their prices aren’t the absolute lowest available, you can at least rest assured in the knowledge that you’re not being fleeced of your hard-earned cash.      

- Keep your eyes peeled for the “HTTPS” in the website’s URL

A succession of high profile data breaches continue to make it abundantly clear that no retail website or online payment system are beyond the clutches of the dangerous and determined hackers who’re active in cyberspace today. They seemingly find a way around even the most elaborate defences mounted to keep them out. However, despite the possibility that such measures could ultimately prove futile, you should always be on the lookout for telltale signs of online protection. One of the most critical of these is the “https” at the start in the URL, which signals that the personal and financial info you’re sharing via the retailer’s website is encrypted prior to transmission. This added layer of protection is indicated by the closed lock icon in the address bar.               

- Never click on links embedded in e-mails

The circulation of phishing scam e-mails, which purport to provide links to unbelievable deals, is a very popular practice at this time of the year. These messages typically mimic the appearance of legitimate emails from established retailers. However, instead of redirecting you to the retailer’s authentic website, the links embedded in them generally send you to a clone of the real thing. Unfortunately, many shoppers subsequently provide credit card PINs to complete their fictitious ‘purchases’ on these sites. Thankfully, you can significantly reduce the danger of tumbling into this trap by refusing to click on the links embedded in these e-mails. It’s far safer to type the address or name of the retailer that the message appears to be from into your browser’s address bar. You can subsequently perform a manual search for the item you want to purchase when you arrive on the legit site.

- Be very careful when shopping over public Wi-Fi

Easy access to public Wi-Fi hotspots makes it a cinch for millions of people to connect to the Internet every day. This convenient option is particularly prized over the Christmas holiday period because it allows opportunistic shoppers to take full advantage of attractive limited-time and limited quantity offers even when a connection to a private network isn’t available. Seems all good, right? Well, not quite. Sending sensitive financial information via a public Wi-Fi network is fraught with hidden dangers. Many of these hotspots don’t offer encryption protection. This potentially opens the door for anyone with access to the hotspot to also gain access to personal information such as your credit card PIN.

- Change your password(s) as frequently as possible

You’ve probably heard it a million times before…but I’ll still recommend this tip for the one millionth and first time because, as almost everybody knows, passwords are the keys required to unlock virtually every online shopping account. When they fall into the wrong hands, hackers typically use them to access a treasure trove of personal and financial information. This usually results in catastrophic consequences for the owners of said data. The regular changing of your password is one of the best and simplest defences that you can mount against the various password cracking tools and techniques employed by these cunning cyber criminals. It’s also a good idea to implement the most unusual password that your mind can dream up.      

It’s always better to be safe than sorry

Letting your guard down increases the inherent risks associated with shopping online. If a site or deal doesn’t look quite right, it’s always better to err on the side of caution by passing on it. This decision could be the difference between winning and losing on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.      

Nathan Brown is a blogger who concentrates in the area of internet security and emerging technologies