As holiday shoppers rev up for todays Cyber Monday the official start of the online shopping season, its also a time for cybercriminals to pounce.
During the holidays, Criminals know that people are online in a big way. And they know were distracted, said Robert Siciliano, online security expert for McAfee, the Santa Clara-based Internet security firm.
The data is flying around from so many e-tailers and from so many devices (laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets) There are so many points of vulnerability, if youre not doing something to protect yourself, said Siciliano.
To avoid getting accosted online, here are his top five safe-shopping tips:
Arm your devices
Whether its your iPad, smartphone or laptop, be sure its password protected. If its not (and its lost or stolen), bad guys have complete access to all your data and everything youre looking at online, from emails to financial records, said Siciliano. With a password, youve got an extra layer of protection.
Be sure that all your anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and firewalls are updated.
Consider installing a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which encrypts data when youre using public Wi-Fi networks. A VPN will lock it down. Its like a tunnel you go through that shields your Internet traffic, said Siciliano. He and PC World recommend free downloads such as Hotspot Shield.
Beware fake notices
Chances are youve seen them: phony notices from FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service about a package youve supposedly been shipped. Or the notices come from a supposed retailer.
Consumers might be fooled into thinking its for something theyve already ordered or a holiday gift from friends or family. In most cases, theyre a ruse to get you to click on a link that will install malicious software or trick you into disclosing bank account or personal financial information.
Its a new version of a phishing scam, said Siciliano. With more and more people buying online, there are more and more opportunities for scammers to fool buyers with these fake notifications.
If you get such a notice, hit Delete, he said. If you want to confirm or track a shipment, type in the Web address yourself.
Use safe sites
When using your credit card on an online shopping site, be sure the URL address starts with https. That s indicates its a secure, encrypted site.
When browsing online, dont fall for phony look-alike, sound-alike websites, such as Best Buye or Amazonn.com, that try to fool you into thinking youve landed on a legitimate site. Siciliano said crooks often buy up domain names of commonly misspelled or mistyped sites, a form of cyber-squatting or typo-squatting. These phony e-tailers, whose sites mimic legitimate retailers, often pop up during the holidays.
Be diligent about checking your credit card statements for fraudulent, duplicate or erroneous charges. Refute them as quickly as possible with your credit card issuer, so they can reset the charges, said Siciliano.
One of the easiest holiday scams is tempting shoppers with deep discounts. When youre looking online for gifts or gift cards, be leery of sites that offer too-good-to-be-true deals or discounts.
If youre searching online and find a random website that offers big discounts, thats risky, said Siciliano.
Dont click on links
It could be a holiday best wishes email or a phone text that wants your attention. If theres a link youre invited to click, dont be tempted. Never click on links, unless its from somebody youre corresponding with whos mentioned theyre sending a link, he said. And never click on links in text messages. Ever.
Too often, theyre simply a tool to launch spyware. Its like a video camera over your shoulder that spies on everything you look at, the forms you fill out, the data you store, he noted.
Overall, Siciliano said, its everyones responsibility to be diligent about thwarting cybertheft. Its a constant battle, he said, but the best defense starts with common-sense precautions.
Call The Bees Claudia Buck, (916)321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog.