Year after year, consumers are spending more during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. In 2019, Cyber Monday shoppers broke a spending record, consuming $9.4 billion online. Because of COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, online shopping has increased by $107 billion dollars this year so far, and expected to surge with holiday shopping. A record 60% of shoppers said they planned to shop online for the holidays and spend an average of $998 in gifts alone in 2020. Will you be one of them?
Black Friday as we know it — a post-Thanksgiving rush for the best shopping deals — began in the 1980s. Since then, however, it’s grown into an extra-long weekend of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. There are many different opportunities for consumers to load up on discounted holiday gifts and make charitable donations — it’s as easy as one, two, swipe.
Unfortunately, identity thieves and hackers can hear those credit card swipes and online transactions from miles away, making the holiday shopping season one of their favorite times of the year to steal from honest, hardworking individuals. With the abundance of data breaches that have taken place this year, it’s now more important than ever to make sure we’re all being vigilant and taking the appropriate steps to protect ourselves, our payment card numbers, and any Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
How to Protect Yourself During the Holiday Shopping Season
Whatever your holiday shopping plans look like this year, safety should always be top-of-mind. Whether you’re planning on searching out “virtual” doorbuster deals, having an online shopping spree during your lunch break, or donating your end-of-year bonus to your favorite charity, be sure you’re not opening your wallet to scammers in the process.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you buy gifts for your friends and loved ones:
Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of data breaches involving point-of-sale (PoS) systems. In most cases, thieves have been able to infiltrate the systems businesses use to process payments by installing malware; if you swipe your card on an infected PoS system, or enter your payment credentials into a compromised online shopping cart, your payment information can be sent straight to the criminals who are hoping to drain your bank account.
How can you avoid falling victim to a PoS attack or another type of Black Friday scam? Think about using one of the most secure payment methods. For example, using cash in person is always safer than using a credit or debit card — just remember to hang on to your wallet in the busy store! If you’re not a fan of using cash, or you’re doing your Black Friday spending online, credit cards are usually better options than debit cards. Credit card companies tend to offer better protection against fraudulent purchases, and if a thief tries to steal money from you, they won’t be holding up tangible funds in your bank account that you may have set aside to pay upcoming bills.
There may not be physical PoS systems to worry about while online shopping, but that doesn’t mean Cyber Monday scams and the risk of identity theft doesn’t exist. It may be tempting to visit a website that seems to have the best deals, but never make a purchase on a website unless it is absolutely secure.
What are some signs you’re on a secure website that can be trusted? The URL should always begin with “https” rather than “http” — the added “s” means it’s secure. Some browsers also include a padlock symbol in front of the web address to show the site has a trusted security certificate. Likewise, some browsers will also tell you if it appears that a website is not secure or dangerous.
However, even bogus websites can use these security features as a way of tricking you into thinking it’s a legitimate site. Do your homework; look for signs that the URL is not as expected, deals are “too good to be true,” or think twice if the site is asking you for unusual payment methods. A site asking for payment via wire transfers, prepaid cards, and gift cards is highly likely to be a scam.
Giving Tuesday is the perfect day to give back and support charitable initiatives you feel strongly about. Of course, even when you have the best of intentions, cybercriminals and identity thieves will prey on that — taking advantage of your generous spirit.
Before you donate any money on Giving Tuesday, make sure that the charity or organization you’re contributing to is legitimate. If you visit CharityNavigator.org, you can review unbiased evaluations of over 8,000 charities and get the inside scoop in advance. It’s also smart to be wary of any fraudulent GoFundMe pages or other crowdsourced initiatives — unless you know the person who posted the page and you’re sure your money will go to the right place, it’s sometimes best to direct your charitable dollars elsewhere.
These tips aren’t meant to put a damper on your holiday shopping plans. We just want everyone to enjoy the season of giving, while still remaining vigilant and aware of the ways identity thieves may try to take advantage of their trust or kindness.
We’ve also created a printable tip sheet, 10 Ways to Avoid Online Holiday Scams, that you can share with your family, friends, and colleagues. The more people following safe online shopping practices the better!