We’re about to head into the long Thanksgiving weekend here in North America, unofficially the kick-off weekend for the holiday shopping season. While most of my fellow Americans are looking forward to big sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I always have a little more trepidation this time of year. While we’re pulling out our holiday shopping lists, thieves and hackers are gearing up for what they undoubtedly view as “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Stores are more crowded. You’ve got a to-do list a mile long. You’re probably putting your credit cards and your computer browser on triple overtime. It’s the perfect time for fraudulent activity to go unnoticed. So wherever you do your shopping this season, be extra cautious of your transactions. While you’re on a spending spree, thieves are on a spree of their own. Here are some things I tell my friends and family about how to keep their data and belongings safe from fraudsters around the holidays.
In-Store Shopping Safety:
On an average Tuesday, you’d probably be concerned if someone was standing “too close” to you at an ATM or self-service kiosk. During the holidays, crowded stores can make it seem a little more normal – and that’s where thieves can employ “shoulder surfing,” peeking over your shoulder to watch as you enter your PIN or other secure data. That’s why my #1 super-easy tip is, when you’re entering your PIN at an ATM or kiosk, always cover your hand. It seems so “low-tech,” but sometimes the low-tech solutions are the most fool-proof. It prevents fraudulent cameras and recording devices, as well as shoulder surfers from capturing a critical piece of data.
Text for coupons and codes with caution
Think about how easy it would be for a fraudster to put up a sign that encourages you to text a new number in exchange for a coupon code, loyalty offer or other reward. We’re all expecting deals coming from every direction, so shoppers may not have their guard up like they do the rest of the year. Carefully consider “who” you’re texting before you hit “send,” so your mobile phone doesn’t end up going straight to a compromised server. And, watch for text messages from unknown senders – there’s a very good chance that link they’re asking you to click on in the text message is fraudulent, and your click could expose your phone’s data to a fraudster.
Lock down your credit
If you didn’t already do it after the Equifax breach, please lock down your credit now. With so many shoppers opening new lines of credit around the holidays to take advantage of additional discounts, a fraudulent new-card request could fly right under the radar.
Online Shopping Safety:
Beware the onslaught of phishing scams
Phishing emails are the #1 attack vector to watch out for – and when you’re making so many purchases in such a short amount of time, it can be easier for fraudsters to sneak in an email that looks legitimate and requests personal information you normally wouldn’t hand out. Today’s “social engineers” are extremely sophisticated at impersonating well-known brands, so just remember – don’t ever provide info like your credit card number, social security number or any other personal data in response to an email request. And, be extra cautious about clicking on any links provided in an unfamiliar email. When in doubt, call the company.
Be selective with your Wi-Fi choices
“Free” internet access is ubiquitous these days, and we all expect to be able to hop online wherever we are, whether on our laptop at a café or on our mobile at a store. Make sure your connection is secure before you do any shopping or enter personal information online:
Watch out for mobile “hotspots” that could be fake – when you use them, a hacker could be viewing all your login data.
Consider using a VPN (virtual private network) when you’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Check for the “https” at the beginning of the URL – it’s a signal that the page is secure.
Opt to sign in to a site before you make a purchase. It’s a hassle, but it’s also an added layer of security.
Streamline purchasing behavior
Make life easier for yourself by using one credit card as your “online shopping” card, and save your records of every online transaction, just like you save your physical receipts. And whether you’re shopping on a phone, tablet or computer, make sure you’ve upgraded your devices with the latest software and patches.
Remember this: Security breaches stem from flaws in software and processes. Hackers are looking for the easiest ways to exploit their victims, so stay alert this holiday season. Don’t give thieves an easy way in to your personal information. Most of these tips shouldn’t be a surprise, but we sometimes get a little too lax over time. If it’s been awhile since you updated your smartphone, changed your passwords or used an ATM, now is the perfect time to get back up to speed.
Have more questions about keeping your information secure? Reach out to us – we’re here to help! And if you’ll be managing ATMs this season, make sure you sign up to receive our ATM Security Alert emails.