Tips for a Safer Cyber Monday, Beyond

Posted on: December 1, 2019 | By: Tarah Holland | Filed under: Data & Identity, Info Security, Online Safety Tips

For many consumers, ‘tis the season for giving, which often comes with a good bit of holiday shopping. Though Black Friday has passed, the days of deals are still to come for Cyber Monday and the rest of the season.

According to TransUnion’s 2019 Holiday Retail Fraud Survey, 75 percent of consumers plan to complete 50 percent or more of their holiday shopping online this year. Unfortunately, the growth in online spending has come with a spike in online scams.

In a 2018 Experian survey, 43 percent of consumer who had their identity stolen said it occurred while shopping online during the holidays. If you plan to snag some online deals this season, it’s critical to protect yourself against fraud. Learn about common scams below and tips to help you stay safe while shopping online.


Phishing refers to fraudulent emails, texts or calls that appear to be from companies or people that you know, but are actually from scammers. With these threats, scammers attempt to get your private information, passwords or account numbers to commit fraud. Phishing emails use deceptive means such as asking you to reply or click on a link in the message.

During the holidays, phishing scams often highlight fake promotions for popular products or charity solicitations. Protect yourself by reviewing the common red flags found in phishing emails and avoid clicking on any suspicious links or attachments in emails and messages.

Gift Cards

Gift card scams can come in various forms, including phishing emails asking for gift cards and phony social media promotions offering consumers a chance to win gift cards to popular retailers. As with other fraudulent messages, avoid clicking on those types of phishing attempts.

When buying a gift card, it’s important to make sure that the card has not been tampered with and that the security code is in tact. The Retail Gift Card Association (RGCA) also recommends that you keep your receipt, verify and register any gift cards you receive and use your gift card, so that it reduces your risk of losing it.

Copycat Websites

If you’re looking to spend money with your favorite retailers online, make sure you’re visiting official websites. This also applies to banking websites you may visit. Any payment page you use should be secure and include ‘https://’ at the beginning of the website address (URL). The image of a locked padlock should also appear in the address bar of the browser window.

If you don’t see these critical markers, don’t enter payment details or other personal information.

Fake Charities

If you want to support a charity this holiday season, be sure to thoroughly research the charity before sending a donation. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), avoid any entity that wants you to send donations in cash, by gift card or by money transfer/wire. These requests are most often from scammers. Before making a donation online, be certain of where your money is going and how your donation will be used.

To be safer, pay by credit card or check and keep a record of any donations that you make. Don’t ignore red flags. If you feel that you may have been scammed, report it to the FTC.

Delivery & Shipping Scams

Package theft is prevalent during the holidays. If you’re due to receive shipments this season, make sure you’re home to receive them or that you make other arrangements to avoid theft of any packages left at your door. In addition, some scammers send fraudulent emails or texts that appear to be shipping notifications or leave missed delivery notices on doors to lure shoppers into giving up personal information.

Make sure you’re aware of the orders you’ve placed and confirm shipping details with retailers you ordered from. If you receive a missed delivery notification from a shipping company, compare the phone number on the notice with official phone number of the shipping company. You should be able to compare your package tracking number also instead of your personal information. Learn more from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about ways to protect yourself from delivery and shipping scams.

More Tips to Protect Yourself Online

  • Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks: Using public Wi-Fi networks is always a risk. When using a public network, such as in a coffee shop or an airport, never access private information like your bank or your email, and only shop online when you are using a secure network. Remember: secure websites include ‘https://’ at the beginning of the website address (URL) and the image of a locked padlock in the address bar of the browser window.
  • Be Suspicious of Free Offers: Phishing scammers want you to make mistakes and give up your personal information, and they’ll offer you amazing deals or quick money to get you to make that careless choice. Ask yourself: “Is this too good to be true?” Don’t take the bait.
  • Keep Devices, Apps & Browsers Updated: Keeping your devices updated ensures you have the latest security fixes. Your mobile devices are just as vulnerable as your PC or laptop. Having the most up-to-date security software, web browser, operating system and apps is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
  • Monitor Accounts: It’s a great idea to regularly monitor your accounts, but it’s also smart to increase the frequency during the holiday season when you make be making more purchases. Consider setting up alerts for these accounts, and in addition, review your statements and bills. Be sure that the transactions are correct and report any suspicious activity immediately.
  • Safeguard Passwords: When online shopping, retailers want you to create accounts with them so you can set up your shipping information, review past orders or see the status of existing orders. Using unique passwords protects your accounts in case a retailer is breached and your password for that retailer is exposed. If you reused this password on other accounts someone would be able to access those accounts as well. Consider using a password manager like LastPass to manage all your passwords.
  • Use Credit Cards: Avoid using your debit card for online transactions. Often times the best fraud protections comes with credit cards. Many major credit cards offer $0 liability for fraudulent purchases, but your debit card may not offer the same protection.

Visit the Information Security website to sign up for alerts and learn more about ways to stay safe online.

Tarah Holland

Tarah Holland is a Digital Content Strategist at Elon University.

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