Believe it or not, in just two short weeks from now, it will be Black Friday.  Before COVID19 hit, the tradition would always be to wake up at 4 AM and stand in a long line in front of your favorite stores, in order to get the best priced items possible, especially when it comes to electronic products. 

But this year of course, things are quite a bit different, and you probably will not find those long lines outside.  In fact, you could even be quite lucky if you even see a store that is open on Black Friday.

Because of this, many American consumers will now be shopping from the comforts of their own home, most likely with their Smartphone or other type of wireless device.  While you most likely would have paid with your credit card or debit card even as you visited the traditional brick and mortar stores, there is really not much choice but to use that method of payment when it comes to online shopping. 

The Cyberattacker is fully cognizant of this, and especially at this critical time, they will try to take advantage of every opportunity they can get to heist your financial information.  The bottom line is that we are all at risk, we can all become a victim.  But the key is learning how to mitigate that risk as much as possible from actually happening.

In this blog, we look at some key steps that you can take to help protect yourself after you finish gorging on your turkey.

*Do a clean sweep of your device:

Whether you have an actual computer or just a wireless device, before you start online shopping ventures, it is very important that you do a scan first to make sure that there is no form of Malware present on your system.  This is of course means that you need to have very reliable antivirus/antimalware package installed first.  IMHO, the best one is probably Webroot.  If possible, you may even want to consider getting a tech support plan with the Geek Squad.  During these times, they can actually come out to your residence, and do a much deeper dive scan, and even optimize your device.  I actually did this once, and it was very affordable.  After you complete the scan, and all turns out OK, then go ahead and start your shopping.

*Make sure that you have a secure network connection:

Given the Remote Workforce of today, there have been many security issues regarding the meshing of the home-based networks with the corporate networks when it comes to conducting your daily job tasks.  Thus in this regard, you should only be using your home-based network to do your online shopping, as you do not want to accidentally expose any confidential information and data about your company.  When doing this, make sure that you are using what is known as a Virtual Private Network, or “VPN” for short.  This will actually mask your network line of communications from the outside world, thus making your shopping activity just that much more secure.  Also, another key aspect to keep in mind is that never rely upon the security settings that are provided by your ISP on your router. Always configure them to your environment, to the highest settings that are possible.  Also, make sure that your router is upgraded with the latest firm.  Purchasing a good VPN package is not expensive as you think, and many ISPs make them today extremely affordable, especially in today’s world of tight budgets.

*Make use of Password Managers:

OK, I fully realize that this is a completely beaten up topic, and I have written about this many times before.  But, as much as we hate them, passwords will be here to stay for the long term.  Therefore, you need to make them as long and complex as possible, so that it would take quite a while for a Cyberattacker to crack into.  Yes, this is an utter pain, but this where the role of a Password Manager.  This is merely a software application that lets you do all of this.  But also, it stores these passwords so that you do not have to remember them, and even resets them on a prescribed timetable.  Remember, apart from your financial information and data, the Cyberattacker is also after your password.  One of the best Password Managers that I recommend to use is called “Last Pass”.  I have heard great things about it, and it is widely used, even in Corporate America today.  Also, keep in mind that many online merchants will also be making use of what are known as “One Time Passwords”.  This is simply a password with a very finite time length (usually just a few minutes) that is either sent to your Email address or as a text message to your Smartphone.

*Try to make sure that you are not visiting a fraudulent site:

With the world of COVID19 today, there are many phony and fictitious websites that are going up today, which look like the real thing.  Before you shop at an online store, especially if it is one that you are using for the first time, take this into consideration:

*Always make sure that the website is on an SSL.  You can confirm this by seeing the locked padlock in the extreme left of side of the URL bar in the web browser that you are using.

*Carefully check the grammar and English of the content on the website.  If there are any errors, this is one of your first signs that it site is probably a phony one.

*Make sure that there is a “Contact Us” page and call the customer service line just to make sure that the online merchant is a legitimate one, and not based somewhere offshore.

*Always read reviews of that online merchant first before you start making purchases.  While of course there could be some negative reviews, if there are too many of them, then that is a huge red flag, especially when it comes to getting your money back.

The best rule of thumb here is to shop online where you normally have shopped before.  Also, believe it or not, there are even threats posed to those websites that are ranked highly by Google.  These are more technically known as “Malicious SEO” and “Waterhole Attacks”.  In today’s times, the Cyberattacker is always trying to find ways into the online store of an Ecommerce merchant, because they know that for the most part, everybody will be shopping online this season.  There is really not much that you can do to prevent these kinds of attacks, just make sure you keep shopping at those online stores where do you have done so previously.

*Be careful about charitable organizations:

Even before COVID19 hit, it has always been a tradition to help those needier and less fortunate during the times of the holidays.  But now more than ever before, you have to be extremely cautious as to who are going to make donations to.  IMHO, as much as it may suck, just don’t even donate this time around.  If you feel the urge to, make a good donation to your church or other religious entity that you are affiliated with.  Also, never ever make donations on Social Media Sites!!!

My Thoughts On This

It’s always to shop online with a credit card.  For example, if you credit card information was ever heisted, you can quickly and easily get a new one, and under current federal law, I think your damages are only limited to $50.00.  Whereas, if you use a debit card or your checking account information, all of the money that you have in that account is at risk.  While it is FDIC protected, it could take longer to get your money back.

Also, keep checking your credit card and banking info online at least 2X a day to make sure that there is no malicious activity going on.  Don’t wait for the paper statements to come, as this may be too late then to rectify any kind of security breach that may have occurred.

In the end, just try to be a proactive as possible, and go with your gut.  If it doesn’t look or feel right, then it probably isn’t.  Have fun shopping!!  I plan to do some but will probably wait until Cyber Monday to actually do it.