By Stephanie Humphrey
It’s 2020 – everything about this year has been unexpected and unprecedented, and holiday shopping will be no different. Retail associations are predicting ecommerce retail trends will explode across the board, some saying online sales may jump as much as 30% this year. We have already seen an unusually early start to Black Friday deals from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target. And according to the National Retail Federation, more than 60% of people plan to do their holiday shopping online this year. If your holiday shopping plans include the internet, here are five things to think about that can help keep you safe online.
• Do NOT use public Wi-Fi to shop online: This is a reminder for any time of the year, but it becomes even more important during the holiday season. It might be tempting to take a break from the confines of your home and head off to a coffee shop for a change of scenery. But if you’re killing time by sipping your latte and browsing the web looking for the perfect gift for Grandma, do not finalize that purchase until you get home. Using public Wi-Fi creates an easy opportunity for someone to watch your internet traffic – including that credit card number you just entered on that website you were surfing. “Browse in public, buy at home” means that you can visit different retail sites via public Wi-Fi, but when it’s time to purchase, leave the items in the cart until you get home. You can also disconnect from public Wi-Fi and use your cellular signal to make purchases as well. This also applies to online banking, accessing health information online, or any other sensitive activity you might need to do on the internet.
• Enable two-factor authentication: This is also a standard security tip that can protect your online accounts. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is the extra step you can enable on email, bank accounts, PayPal, social media platforms, etc. where you get a text message (or email) with a code when you attempt to log in to those accounts. It might take a few extra seconds to access your account, but it’s worth it to keep your info safe. The option to enable 2FA is usually found in the privacy or security section of an account’s settings.
• Use a virtual credit card: Most banks and credit card companies offer the option to use a virtual credit card for online shopping. It is a one-time number that is connected to your real credit or debit card that you can use for purchases on one particular website. Once you’ve completed that purchase, the virtual card number expires and cannot be used anywhere else. With virtual credit card numbers, if a website gets hacked the hackers will not have any of your actual personal financial details and won’t be able to use that number anywhere else on the internet. Check with your bank or credit card company to see if they offer this option – once you get set up, you can add an extension to your web browser to fill in the information automatically so you can shop with ease!
• Beware of phishing scams: Phishing scams – where you get emails or text designed to look legitimate – are always much more frequent during the holiday season. Whether they are offering too good to be true deals on the latest electronics or pulling at your heartstrings to get you to donate to charity, these communications can be extremely hard to spot if you’re not careful. Check the return email address by hovering over it with your mouse cursor (don’t click it!) – does it look legit? Are there typos or grammatical errors in the message? Does the message try to get you to do something right away by communicating a sense of urgency? If you have any messages in your inbox or text messages on your phone from someone you don’t recognize, do not click on any links! You can block the messages on any device and report email phishing scams to your service provider.
• If it sounds too good to be true…: You haven’t seen a 60-inch TV for $99 anywhere else but one sketchy looking website? Or a seller on Amazon has only been on the site for a few days but already has 5000 5-star reviews? It’s tempting to want to take advantage of a deal, but don’t let your desire for a bargain outweigh your common sense. Do your research, try to stick to trusted retailers, and don’t get caught in a scam. It’s an old saying because it’s true, but the fact remains – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.zz
Stephanie Humphrey is a former engineer turned tech-life expert and author. She is a contributor to “Good Morning America” and Fox 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.”’. You can find Stephanie all around the web @TechLifeSteph and get her book, “Don’t Let Your Digital Footprint Kick You in the Butt!” on Amazon.