According to a recent survey, 87 percent of U.S. adults feel that the risk of becoming a victim of a cybercrime is growing.1 In fact, online crimes including server breaches are the single largest criminal threat facing small businesses.
For large and small businesses alike, it should come as no surprise that more Americans have been shopping online due to the COVID-19 pandemic - and this trend will likely continue until the pandemic subsides. In fact, with Cyber Monday approaching, these numbers are expected to rise. In 2019, Cyber Monday shattered the online sales record with $9.4 billion in revenue - and that was before social distancing.2
This means that protecting yourself when you shop online (or just online in general) is something you need to take seriously. These ten tips can help holiday online shoppers safeguard information when buying from an online retailer and help protect you year round.
Tip #1: Create Secure Passwords
Your password is the first line of defense - meaning you’ll want to make it a strong one. Avoid simple, easy to figure out passwords like “Pass1234” or “0000” - even birthdays and anniversary dates are easy for hackers to figure out.
If your computer supports the ability to generate random passwords, this can be the safest option. If you do not have that option, create a password free from full words, names, dates, phone numbers or addresses. Instead, try using partial words and symbols to replace letters such as '!' for an 'i,' '$' for an 's,' and '@' for an 'a.'
Don't forget to change your passwords on a regular basis and avoid keeping a list of your passwords on your computer or even better, use a password manager. These can not only store your logins in one place but can also generate really tough to crack passwords. Reach out to us to discuss some options.
Tip #2: Protect Your Passwords
Always use a different password for each site or service you use. This is an important step in preventing hackers from gaining access to all of your other accounts if one becomes compromised. Avoid sharing your password with others, even friends and family. If another person's computer is hacked, this could put your personal information in danger as well. This is where that password manager can come in handy as well.
Tip #3: Invest in Quality Cybersecurity Software
If you don’t have it already, seriously consider installing cybersecurity software on your computer. This software can help identify and prevent viruses from downloading to your computer system. While there are free programs available, they don’t always provide the latest updates. There are low-cost cybersecurity options to choose from, and their small upfront cost can be worth it to safeguard your personal information. We can offer some suggestions here as well.
Tip #4: Be Wary of Links
In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid clicking on any links you receive in an email or chat - especially if they’re from a stranger or unfamiliar company. It’s entirely too easy for hackers to make links appear trustworthy or like they’re coming from a reliable source, when in reality they’re not.
If you’re unsure about the validity of a link, try typing the URL directly into your browser’s address bar. Also, learn to hover your curser over a link or web address. I recently got an email from what appeared to be Target but hovering over the link revealed it was a Russian link.
Tip #5: Don't Put Yourself at Risk
The internet is immense, and there are some parts you simply want to stay away from. Visiting certain types of sites which contain adult entertainment, certain discussion forums, file-sharing sites and streaming services can lead to an increased likelihood of downloading a virus to your computer.
As an online shopper, you’ll want to be especially vigilant of sites that appear to boast too-good-to-be-true offers or list items for sale at a substantially lower price than others. If it does not appear to be reputable, it could be putting your computer or personal information in danger.
Tip #6: Don't Use Debit Cards Online
Once you make a purchase with a debit card, the money is immediately deducted from your bank account. If a cybercriminal gains access to your debit card information, the criminal can quickly drain your bank account. While you may get your money back, you will likely not have access to your funds until your bank resolves the issue. Instead, use a credit card and let your credit card company worry about it.
Tip #7: Check Your Credit Score for Changes
Set aside a day each month to check your credit score - maybe make it a habit to check on the same day you pay your bills each month. There are several sites that offer free credit scores, and many banks or credit unions offer the service to their customers. If you see a big change, it could mean something is going on. Consider obtaining your free credit report as well. By going to https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action you can request a free report from ONE of the three credit bureaus throughout the year instead of getting all three reports at once. This will spread out the number of reports you can obtain for free during the year. Any strange activity should be investigated asap.
Tip #8: Be wary of QR codes
You know those funky looking squares on ads or even a menu? Scammers have been known to replace real ones with ones of their own that download software onto your device and can cause all sorts of issues.
Tip #9: COVID related scams are on the rise.
Be wary of anything COVID related. We have seen emails with things like, "You have been identified as someone that was in contact with the virus" or "N95 masks 50% off". Clicking on these links can install some pretty serious malware or ransomware onto your computer.
Tip #10: When in doubt, do not click.
Feel free to reach out to us if you see something you are not sure about. Remember, the IRS will never send you an email. The same applies for most government agencies and if Amazon is telling you that you need to update your billing info, etc,, ignore it.
Cybercrime is scary, but it is part of modern-day life. Taking precautions like those above can help you lower your chances of becoming another victim.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me anytime for a conversation. Click HERE to see my calendar or just shoot me an email or give me a call.
In good health.
All the best.
Rick Fingerman, CFP®
*This blog article is meant to be just a simple primer. I'm happy to speak in more detail one on one.
Financial Planning Solutions, LLC (FPS) is a Registered Investment Advisor. Financial Planning Solutions, LLC (FPS) provides this blog for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, tax, or legal advice. FPS only renders personalized advice to each client. Information herein includes opinions and source information that is believed to be reliable. However, such information may not be independently verified by FPS. Please see important disclosures link at the bottom of this page.