Every year, millions of Americans start their holiday shopping over Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Though each year trends a little more toward online shopping and deals, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more likely for this year to skew toward online vs. in-person shopping.
No matter how you’re planning to shop this year, one recommendation is to start earlier than you typically would. Online businesses and stores have worked to improve online supply chains and shipping, but the increase in online shopping may still put significant strain on the shipping infrastructure. To ensure everything gets to you on time, many businesses are starting their holiday promotions earlier this year.
Online shopping might be your safest option this year, but you should still take some necessary precautions to avoid financial risk. Here are some tips for how to keep your information safe while shopping Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
Make sure the sites you shop on are secure
Whenever you’re browsing the Internet, it’s a good idea to ensure the sites you use have a URL that begins with https (instead of just http) and/or that there is a closed padlock in the browser bar. These validate the site as secure. These signals are even more important on a site on which you plan to shop so you can ensure the safety of your personal and financial information. Use the same validation process for social media ads that may appear to be on the platform but are actually on the advertiser sites.
Learn about brands before you buy
Many of the top brands and online retailers will be swamped with online orders this year, so it might be a good idea to shop new, smaller and more local brands – even online. When ordering from a new site or retailer, it’s always a good idea to understand the company. You can vet a brand online by reading customer reviews and finding the company listing in Better Business Bureau. Be sure to also read the Terms and Conditions of the website. How does the company handle refunds, shipping and returns? Just remember, if a deal or special sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Use the same credit card for all purchases
When shopping online, security experts highly recommend that you use a credit card rather than a debit or prepaid card. That’s because most credit cards have built-in fraud protection, whereas many debit cards have limits to how much of your money you can recover in a breach situation.
In addition to only shopping with credit cards, it can help to only use one credit card for all online transactions – especially during the holidays. Using a single credit card allows for easier tracking of purchases, so you can flag any unfamiliar charges quicker and easier. It also means you’ll only have to cancel one card if your information is compromised.
Purchase on your home Wi-Fi
Experts also recommend that you do all of your shopping on your home Wi-Fi network rather than on public Wi-Fi (at a coffee shop, for example), which might be less secure. If you must use public Wi-Fi, make sure you use a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) for extra security.
Keep your email secure
Along with an increase in online shopping deals comes an increase in emails this holiday season. Experts recommend increased caution with your inbox before the holidays. Never open or interact with an email whose sender you don’t recognize. Email hacking (or phishing) using malicious links is one of the most common forms of cyber-attacks, and increases during the holiday season.
Use strong passwords
Many online shopping platforms such as Etsy, eBay and Amazon require frequent users to create accounts to save payment and shipping information. Use strong passwords and create a different login and password for each of these sites. If you need help creating strong passwords and keeping them straight, you can use a password manager.
Safe holiday shopping may look a little different this year, and it’s always a good idea to follow safety standards when using personal or financial data online. Follow these tips to make sure you keep your information safe online and have happy and healthy holidays.