It’s a little funny that as we near Thanksgiving, and therefore Black Friday (the big in-store shopping day after the holiday), I’m asked to give holiday shopping advice. Let me be completely honest; I’m a committed online shopper. My favorite shopping expeditions involve a warm laptop, hot cocoa and fuzzy slippers. I don’t like crowds or circling the parking lot to find a space (or worse, forgetting where you left your car and wandering the lot with all the shopping bags when you are ready to just go home.)
I’m certainly not alone. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. It’s expected that more than 120 million shoppers will go online to take advantage of the one-day only sales. And with innovative technology, the online shopping experience is changing, blending, even overlapping with real-world Black Friday activity.
32 percent of mobile phone users say they will use a shopping app this year. A shopping app can compare prices, find items in inventory in other retail outlets or place your order online. It can store your sizes, preferences and payment information. With stored private data, make sure you select safe apps from credible vendors. You should also avoid apps that display unwanted ads or otherwise interrupt your shopping experience. We call this aggressive advertising in mobile apps “madware.” Stop madware in its tracks with mobile security software, like our free mobile app, Norton Spot.
Stores and online merchants know we love using our mobile phones and are redesigning their online sites to have a streamlined and optimized mobile version of the site. That way it displays neatly on the smaller screen and still provides a robust and quick shopping experience. 42 percent of mobile phone users say they will make purchases via their phone from the web browser.
Now if you’re using a mobile phone that stores private information like credit card data or shopping apps that login to your favorite online store, you’ve got to protect it from cybercriminals or even a snooping kid who is curious about what you’ve bought them this year. A great defense against anyone reviewing private information on your mobile device is as basic as a unique, complex password. Lock the screen of your phone or tablet and secure it with a password when it’s not in use.
Also make sure you’re paying attention to any limited time or one-day only shopping offers. Can you return the item, or exchange for merchandise credit? Is it new or older or even discontinued goods? Be sure to pay close attention to shipping policies for anything you want to arrive in time for the holidays.
Stick to trusted and known sites, look for lock and verified seals. Use credit not debit cards. Check credit card statements within a few days of shopping to verify what you’re being charged. Pay attention to any opt-ins for emails or requests to participate in surveys. Make sure your computer’s security software can warn you of dangerous websites. If you shop on auction sites or use classified ad sites, be especially alert for scams or fraud. If someone tries to contact you after you fail to win an auction saying they have another of the same item or the original buyer backed out, don’t fall for it.
Here are our top five tips for staying safe while online shopping this holiday season:
Search for signs of approval. Trust marks, such as the Norton Secured Seal, show the retailer has been verified and the site is likely free from malware. Also, look for HTTPS and the color green in your browser address bar before entering your personal information.
“Password” is not an acceptable password. Pay particular attention to the passwords for your email, social networking and online banking accounts, making them as complex and unique as you can. Also, avoid storing your credit card information on retailer websites.
Be cautious on public Wi-Fi networks. Tempting as it may be to purchase a product while using a public Wi-Fi network, these hotspots can be virtual playgrounds for cybercriminals. Instead, use a personal VPN or wait until you’re on a protected network before purchasing anything online or logging onto your bank website.
Avoid spam’s hidden surprises. Not all spam is harmless; some spam carries viruses and other malicious threats that may harm your computer. With holiday headlines like “Insane Cyber Monday Deals: 80% off!” or even more subtle but seasonal captions like “Information about your shipped package!,” you may be tempted to click, but you’d be wise to junk them instead. Always be cautious of any emails you receive from unknown recipients or that seem just a bit too generous.
Take your security to-go. Threats on mobile devices are on the rise, and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Also, while shopping for apps for your new holiday gadget, beware that many mobile apps now feature unwanted aggressive advertising known as “madware” or mobile adware. Use a security solution and adware tool for your smart phones, tablets, laptops and home computers to keep you protected, whether you’re shopping at home or on the move.