10 ways to protect yourself against scams during Black Friday and Cyber Monday

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Every year, more and more Americans turn to online shopping to do a part or even all of their holiday shopping. This year especially considering that due to COVID-19, most will want to avoid large crowds at stores. But while online shopping helps you skip the crowds at the mall, it can be a cybersecurity minefield. This is why it is important that you not only avoid physical threats this year while shopping for your loved one’s holiday gifts, but also avoid cyber threats.

To help you protect yourself during this holiday shopping season, here is a list of 10 things to look out for:

Clicking links in emails

Emails are a particularly common way for fraudsters to gain access to your credit card information or identity. Hackers send what’s called a phishing email, in which they copy a store’s sale or discount email and include a link to a false portal asking for your info. Email is the number-one way cybercrime of all forms happens. If a bad guy can get you to click on a link in an email, he can do all manner of bad things to your online life. If you do get a tempting promotion, go directly to the retailer’s website by typing its name in your browser.

Avoid opening attachments from retailers

In the same way that you should avoid clicking on email links, you should also avoid opening attachments from retailers. Retailers won’t hide deals in attachments – that’s where attackers hide malware. Cyber criminals aren’t only impersonating retailers, you could get a fake email that seems to be from a major shipping company like UPS, FedEx or DHL. Instead of clicking on a tracking number listed in an email or opening up an attachment, go directly to ups.com or fedex.com to check the tracking number.

Avoid pop-ups and ads

Malware and viruses aren’t just spread via email. They can follow you around the Internet in the form of pop-ups and advertisements — these are actually referred to as malvertising, or malicious advertising. These types of ads can send you to sites that ask for your information, but they can also infect your device with a wide variety of harmful programming such as adware, spyware and ransomware. This is a form of malware that locks up your computer or specific files and forces you to pay to get access back. If a deal is legitimate, it will be on the company’s site. Pop-ups are an easy way for cybercriminals to lure you in, so avoid all popups at all cost!

Beware of e-skimmers

Card skimming has been happening for years. It’s a scam that typically happens at gas stations or ATMs, where a criminal installs a device that gathers credit card numbers and information when you swipe your card. That practice has gone digital, the FBI says. Cyber thieves can install malicious code on a retailer’s website to gather credit card data when you check out. To protect yourself from this practice, you can pay using a third party such as PayPal, Venmo or Amazon, if the retailer allows it, so the store never actually has your credit card number. Or you can create a virtual credit card through sites like Privacy.com, or on your card issuer’s website, that provide temporary numbers so your information stays secure.

Use a credit card

Many experts recommend that you use credit cards instead of debit cards. That’s because the Fair Credit Billing Act makes it so consumers are only liable for up to $50 in fraudulent charges. For example, UKRFCU’s Visa Credit Cards offer “zero liability” policy, so you don’t have to pay for any fraud. Save your debit card for taking out cash. Not just during the holidays, but year-round. And make sure to avoid suspicious ATMs. If the ATM looks broken, or anything on the front of the machine appears dislodged, or jerry-rigged, it could mean that someone has installed a card-skimming machine.

Use a secure network to shop

Almost half of Americans, 45%, have used public Wi-Fi to access sensitive information, according to a survey by payment compliance provider PCI Pal. But with all the bad bots and cyber criminals lurking during the holiday season, it can be a particularly dangerous time of year. When shopping online, make sure you’re using a private Wi-Fi connection or your smartphone’s cellular network to browse the internet. Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure and could open you up to malware or hacking. If you absolutely need to use public Wi-Fi, use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, that will encrypt your browsing history and activity.

Be suspicious of free offers

During the holidays there’s an “explosion” of survey and gift card scams. These are generally emails that supposedly offer you payments or gift cards in exchange for taking surveys. Instead, when the user clicks through, they end up on websites that may look legitimate and ask you for your credit card information or Amazon account credentials “so they can pay you.” Yet when you type your credentials in this site, you’re giving them directly to the attacker.

Diversify your passwords

Almost half of Americans, 47%, use the same passwords over and over again, according to PCI Pal. But cyber thieves can use a stolen password and try to break into other accounts and sites that may expose your personal data. This is especially common during the holiday shopping season. Phishing attempts can often be disguised as signups for retail rewards programs. If you take up on the offer, use a password that you haven’t used before. For a more long-term solution, consider getting a password manager. These programs will automatically generate unique, secure passwords for all your accounts and remembers them for you.

Monitor your accounts

Throughout the holiday season, keep a close eye on your bank and credit card accounts. Often criminals will make small charges using bot technology to see if the charge will go through before making larger purchases. To help protect your identity, set up alerts and monitoring — either with UKRFCU or an outside app such as IdentityForce — that will let you know if any suspicious activity occurs. Also, keep a close eye on your annual credit report for any new accounts or queries you didn’t initiate.

Additionally, UKRFCU’s Online Banking and Mobile Banking allows you to check your transaction histories anytime, form anywhere. By doing this, you can spot and report any fraudulent activity on your accounts. It is also a good idea to set up text message alerts for all transactions on your accounts! This way you are always in the know.

Beware gift card scams

A gift card can be the perfect holiday gift for that hard-to-please person on your list, but scams tied to these cards are becoming increasingly popular. For example, one popular strategy used by criminals is to scan or write down the card number in the store, draining the funds before they are even gifted. When buying physical gift cards off the shelf, carefully inspect it to make sure there’s no tampering and you cannot see the code or pin. Many experts recommend buying electronic gift cards online. At the end of the day, bad guys like to exploit our holiday spirit and use it against us. Sadly, we need to be more vigilant this time of year than at any other.

Read the original article here.