A Blog from QualiTest

Four Tips to Ensure a Secure Online Holiday Shopping Experience

Tis the season to shop and most of us do at least some of our holiday shopping online.  Unfortunately, it is also the season when...

Tis the season to shop and most of us do at least some of our holiday shopping online.  Unfortunately, it is also the season when we are more likely to encounter unscrupulous vendors, malware and the increased potential for security breaches that impact our personal and financial data. At Qualitest, we assure security, especially for our retail clients’ websites; yet, as shoppers, we need to be extra cautious as we shop online during the holiday season.  Ultimately, the security of our data is our responsibility.  Here are a few simple tips on ways of reducing the security risks inherent in online shopping.

1. Protecting your data begins before you start shopping

Now would be a great time to make sure your virus protection software is up to date.  Malware signatures change frequently, and hackers will surely design new ones especially for the holiday season.  Most virus protection software provides automatic updates, but it is worthwhile to verify that you have the most current version.  Also, as you shop, run virus scans frequently.

Security extends beyond your laptop; your choice of wi-fi is important too.  Although it’s fun to shop with your friends over coffee, shopping online over free public wi-fi offers identity thieves an yet another opportunity to grab your personal data.  Why not plan an online shopping party with your friends in your own home instead?

2. Shopping with vendors you know and trust

Shopping with vendors whom we know, and trust is always important, yet it is even more critical when we shop online.  Shopping online involves trust; you purchase items, yet you really have no way of knowing that you will actually receive them, much less from whom you are receiving them.  Be cautious when you click on links found in email advertisements as these links may lead to false URLs.  For example,  instead of taking the customer to ‘Macys.com’, the link takes you to ‘Maacys.com’, a website which has an identical window front and homepage.  When this happens, potential customers may be unaware they are on a rogue site.

Often, when we are searching for that perfect holiday gift, we find vendors from whom we have never purchased.  Prior to placing your order, take some time for due diligence. First, be sure that the vendor’s website is secure; more on this under tip #4.  If not, close the link.  Is there contact information for customer support?  If not, find another vendor.  If the vendor seems legitimate, then check with the Better Business Bureau https://www.bbb.org/ to see if there have been any complaints.  Finally, check out the vendor’s online reputation.  In this case, social media is can be a good judge of character.

3. Watching out for those “deals”

If a deal is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.  This old adage is so applicable to online shopping.  What you see online may not be what you actually get.  You might get what you pay for; a lower quality product, or the “deal” could be an attempt to get your personal information.  Be wary of joining mailing lists in exchange for discounts; this not only generates potentially unwanted emails in your inbox, but also, you may become the target of phishing attacks.

4. Using secure payment approaches and practices

Paying for your purchase involves the greatest cyber security risk of the entire online shopping process. Although there’s no getting around online payment, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk.  First, make sure the payment form is encrypted; there may be a padlock icon and the website should begin with https://, not http://.

Consider using a third-party payer such as PayPal or Google Pay to avoid giving your payment information directly to the vendor.  If that isn’t an option, use a credit card rather than a debit card so that you can take advantage your bank’s fraudulent charge mitigation process if necessary.  Finally, check your credit card statements regularly in order to catch fraudulent charges; this is critically important during the holiday season.

Online holiday shopping offers the ultimate venue to find the perfect gift; yet it is also the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous vendors and identity thieves to help themselves to your personal data.  Don’t unwittingly make their holiday merrier.   Ensure that your online holiday shopping experience is secure by managing cyber risk and enjoy the festive season!