The holiday season is upon us which means an increase in the number of consumers buying gifts and services from online retailers. With the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, access to online shopping websites is only a fingertip away for most consumers. The U.S. Government warns that malicious cyber criminals often try to take advantage of the increased volume of online consumers. Cyber criminals will use multiple methods such as phishing emails and phony websites, to attract online shoppers and gain access to and exploit their personal information. Additionally, attackers who pose as legitimate online businesses and services will use fraudulent emails and websites to infect an unsuspecting shopper’s computer with malicious code.
The Department of Homeland Security advises individuals to remain vigilant when purchasing online and offers the following preventative strategies to help minimize consumer’s risk:
- Never click on links in emails. If you do think the email is legitimate, whether from a third party retailer or primary retailer, go to the site and log on directly. Whatever notification or service offering was referenced in the email, if valid, will be available via regular log on.
- Never open the attachments. Typically, retailers will not send emails with attachments. If there is any doubt, contact the retailer directly and ask whether the email with the attachment was sent from them.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone or in an email unless completely sure. Social engineering is a process of deceiving individuals into providing personal information to seemingly trusted agents who turn out to be malicious actors. If contacted over the phone by someone claiming to be a retailer or collection agency, do not give out your personal information. Ask them to provide you their name and a call-back number. Just because they may have some of your information does not mean they are legitimate! Again, be careful when providing any information over the phone.
- Maintain up-to-date antivirus software.
- Review the Federal Trade Commission’s Charity Checklist before making an online donation.
- Verify charity authenticity through a trusted contact number. Trusted contact information can be found on the Better Business Bureau National Charity Report Index.
- Refer to the Shopping Safely Online Cyber Security Tip for more information on online shopping safety.