First article in Professor Roberts' holiday season cyber safety series...
Two of the biggest shopping days of the year are coming up—Black Friday on the day after Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday on the Monday following. With retail stores focused on Black Friday sales and consumers looking for online deals on Cyber Monday, the countdown to the holiday shopping season is on. Don’t let this wonderful season be marred by theft of personal data. There are ways to be safer in retail stores as well as the online tips I’ve previously presented.
Black Friday Retail Shopping
There are lots of articles online that guide searches for the best bargains. I’m not going to repeat those. I encourage consumers to check the validity of the offers on the retailer’s own website and to read the conditions carefully. The recommendations I’m giving are aimed at protecting yourself and the considerable amount of personal data that retailers hold about their customers. When shopping in malls and retail stores:
- Be aware of personal safety at all times—in stores, in malls and in parking lots. Always keep wallets and purses secure. Consider using only 1 credit card for holiday shopping and don’t carry others. If something happens, it is much easier to deal with a single credit card issuer than multiple ones. There is unlikely to be any use for a Social Security card when shopping, and it might be wiser to take it out of your wallet. Be careful if you must use a public ATM; be aware of the crowd around you, shield your PIN from view and don’t leave receipts at the location.
- Be careful with authorization forms and purchase receipts. Unscrupulous employees can put several pieces of information together to engage in identity theft.
- Be vigilant in any follow-up communications with store employees. Be sure it is not an outright scam or phishing expedition. Also be careful that a poorly-trained employee is not asking you to give information that should not be transmitted over the phone or especially by email. The standing advice of contacting the retail store directly applies to any questionable contact from a store employee.
Cyber Monday and Beyond
The after-Thanksgiving holiday shopping is also debut time for new scams that will persist throughout the season. Most of them are not new in concept, they are old ideas in holiday wrapping. Consumers need to take a moment from their pursuit of the best bargain to be sure they aren’t being scammed. Here are some of the important things to watch for:
- Beware of fake sites online and on your mobile devices. Like everything else, the fake sites are getting better but there are reliable ways to spot the fakes. Look at the address bar for https// (the s is for secure) and for the padlock beside it. It your browser says the site is not secure, leave immediately. Read the address itself. It will mimic the real website but be slightly different. Don’t rely on its safety because the site came up in search results. The fake address is often good enough to get the site listed in search results.
- Look at the site presentation—images, content with correct spelling and grammar and overall pleasing design. Retailers take great effort to be sure their site represents their brand well, just like they do in their physical stores. Any sloppiness should trigger the suspicion of the shopper.
- Use only secure payment options. That includes PayPal as well as your credit card and Apple Pay and Google Pay on sites where they are accepted.
- If the offer is too good to be true, it probably is, so walk away. Many of the products seen on fake imitator sites are never shipped. They do, of course, keep your money.
I’ll have other safe shopping advice as we move through the holidays. Have a safe beginning on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As usual, a little caution will take you a long way!