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Shop Smart this Holiday Season: Cyber Security Tips for Online Purchases

Cyber Monday is on the horizon again along with other online discount shopping opportunities to fill up your digital carts as you prepare for the winter gift-giving season – including those after-holiday deals and New Year sales. But beware because cyber thieves are always on the hunt, hoping for distracted shoppers looking for the best holiday deals, and they are getting more sophisticated and emboldened by the day. 

They will try to reel in unsuspecting internet consumers with bad intentions: faulty hyperlinks, faux websites and the ultimate insult during this time of giving and spreading holiday cheer – fake charities.  

“Cyber criminals will aim to exploit your fear of missing a fantastic deal or offer, manipulating online holiday shoppers into actions they wouldn't normally consider,” said T’yanna Ridgeway, fraud manager at Georgia United Credit Union. “Also, many cyber thieves employ scare tactics, alleging that there is an issue with your account. They do this to extract personal and account information to ultimately access your funds.” 

These Grinches are trying to steal your joy by getting access to your personal information, financial data and assets, and they will even try to nab your identity.  

But as you make online purchases during the busy holiday shopping period – and beyond – you can stay vigilant with the following tips from Georgia United: 

  • When shopping online, Georgia United Information Security Engineer Nathan Timberlake suggests making sure to type in the website address or use a known bookmark to get to it, do not click links in emails. Try to use only well-known merchants, shops and stores. “Go directly to the company’s website and determine if you see the same sales and deals there versus accessing it from your email,” said Ridgeway.  

  • Use strong passwords that do not incorporate personal data that is easy for a hacker to guess by looking at your social media profiles or other public information about you. For instance, do not use your home address, your favorite football team or the name of your business. Using a password organizer is also a good idea.  

  • Consumers check to make sure a shopping site is secure by looking for the gray lock symbol in the web address bar. This indicates that the site is secure and is using a valid SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate.  

  • If you use public Wi-Fi while making online purchases, it is best to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to secure your information. However, it is best to avoid using public Wi-Fi connections when you are making online purchases or sharing sensitive personal information, such as credit card and account numbers.  

  • To lower the probability of getting hacked, it is a good idea to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your accounts. It proves that you are you by providing more than a username and password. These multi-factors can be PINs (Personal Identification Numbers), your smartphone or USB key or fingerprint or facial recognition.   

  • Updating software when prompted and turning on automatic updates can help prevent cyber-attacks. “Keeping software updated is a great idea,” said Timberlake. “Because the software can have vulnerabilities built into it that updates will catch and fix – even your web browser – that could be exploited if you go to a website that has been compromised. Typically, Microsoft Office, for example, will update in the background that will just happen while you are using it, and most software does it in the background now, so it is not going to prompt you to update.”   

  • Avoid getting snared by a phishing email with this simple rule: think before you click.   

  • If you are shopping on a site, be wary of complying with a request that seems out of the ordinary. “Are you being asked to put in credentials that you don’t normally put in?” said Ridgeway.  

And when it comes to avoiding online fake charity scams, if you want to donate to real and thoroughly vetted charities in lieu of merchandise, consider programs sponsored by Georgia United’s philanthropic arm, Georgia United Foundation.   


This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as legal advice on any subject matter.