Cybercriminals often ramp up their efforts ahead of popular online shopping periods such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday in an attempt to catch their victims out, and this has been especially true during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With more people than ever before taking to online shopping, due to concerns about the safety of visiting shops in person and also because lockdown restrictions, at times, have forced retailers to close their doors to the public.
So with this in mind, ahead of this year’s Black Friday (26th November 2021) and Cyber Monday (29th November 2021) sales, we’ve put together some helpful guidance around the things you need to look out for and to be aware of to ensure your shopping spree goes off without a hitch.
Cybercriminals utilise old devices and out of date software to install malware (malicious software), so you should enable automatic updates for the operating system and apps on your device, whether it's a Microsoft Windows PC, an Android smartphone or an Apple iPhone.
Sensitive browsing, such as banking or shopping, should only be done on a device that belongs to you, on a network that you trust. This is because public WiFi or a device belonging to someone else can be unsecured, as you have no control over who has access to it, so avoid using a public computer, a cafe’s free WiFi, or even a friend’s device as your data could be copied or stolen. If you do need to access the internet you could always consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which encrypts your transactions or better still, consider using your mobile Internet, as it’s much safer because it is not open to others.
Cybercriminals often copy legitimate websites, so always stick to websites you know when shopping online. If it’s a new website that you haven’t visited before read external online reviews first on sites such as Feefo and Trust Pilot and do some research into the retailer’s credibility before committing to a purchase.
Additionally, it’s always important to check links in email and text messages to check that they’re taking you to a legitimate website, before you click on them. On a desktop or laptop device you can do this by hovering over the link with your cursor and the full URL address will be shown in the bottom left of your browser. Alternatively if you’re on a mobile or tablet device you can do this by pressing and holding down on the link with your finger or stylus to view the full URL address before proceeding.
Always be careful to ensure that once you’ve clicked on the URL address that the address bar stays the same and doesn’t redirect you to a different unknown website.
There are two ways of checking whether the website you’re on is secure, the first is to look for a padlock icon in the address bar at the top of your browser and the second is to check if the website address starts with “https” or “shttp” not just “http”. These two things can of course be spoofed (copied) by criminals, but it will normally give you a good indication that you have a secure connection to the website. The padlock does not guarantee the website itself is safe. You could have a secure connection to a fake website.
Always use a secure password when registering for or accessing an online shopping account. Don’t use the same password for multiple websites. A simple way to create a secure password is to use a pass phrase that contains three or four random words. If you have lots of accounts, you could use an Internet browser to save them, or use a password manager.
Additionally, if you're using someone else’s device or someone else might have access to yours, make sure you; log out of any websites or apps when you're finished, don't save any passwords or log-in information, and clear your browsing history.
If you find something for sale at a much lower price than other retailers, it’s likely to be fake. Remember, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is!
If you use a credit card instead of a debit card when shopping online, it will offer greater protection against fraud because it's not linked to your primary bank account. If you don’t have a credit card don’t worry, as you can use online payment providers like PayPal, Google Pay or Apple Pay for online payments. Remember never use online banking to transfer funds directly into another account, as legitimate retailers will only use recognised, secure payment methods.
When shopping online, be cautious about what information you share, remember that most retailers will only ask for basic details like your name, payment and a delivery address to complete a purchase. The less data you share online, the better, particularly if you’re on social media, as criminals and fraudsters can befriend you and easily gain access to a huge amount of information, such as; where you go to school, where you work, when you’re on holiday, all of which could help them gain access to more valuable data.
Cybercriminals and fraudsters will try and imitate legitimate companies in order steal your money/personal details. So if you receive an unexpected call, email or text that’s asking you to act and to do it now, stop and think carefully before you take action, especially if there’s a deal involved that seems too good to be true. Additionally, be sure to monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity. If you see something unfamiliar, it could be a sign you’ve been hacked.