It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly approaching, you’re probably already scouring flyers – in-store and online – and bracing your wallet for potential deals.
In fact, a recent holiday shopping survey done by the Retail Council of Canada found that 40%t of Canadians intend to shop this Black Friday and spend more than they did last.
But as you fill up your cart in preparation, it’s a good time to think about how safely you shop online, and perhaps add some new layers of cyber security in your own life.
What is Cyber Monday?
First off, if you’ve managed to somehow survive the last decade or so without an internet connection, you may have missed out on the online alternative to the infamous Black Friday sales that take place the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. Just over a decade ago, online retailers decided to offer customers a way to get great deals from the comfort of their homes, rather than facing long lineups at unspeakable hours in the morning for "doorbuster" sales.
As the years passed, the phenomenon crossed the border into Canada with many of our retailers offering online sales of their own. Sites such as Red Flag Deals and Bargain Moose compile lists of available deals, but in 2018, it’s a safe bet than any retailer with an online presence will have a good selection of deals.
How to shop safe
A lot of cyber security relies on some good old-fashioned common sense: don’t use obvious passwords, only shop on legitimate, trusted websites, and if it seems too good to be true – even for Cyber Monday – it may just be. Cyber safety starts with the devices you’ll be using to shop. Install anti-virus software, along with all necessary software updates, and regularly back your devices up in case data is lost.
Here are some ways to make sure you can take advantage of online deals, while staying cyber-safe:
Tip #1: Get password protected
Do you have any passwords that are as easy to hack as 1-2-3-4, your dog’s name or your kid’s birthday? Change them, immediately. With so many of us sharing so much on social media, details that we think only close friends and family may know can be surprisingly well-known.
The best passwords are a cryptic mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols such as @, #, $, and %.
You should also have a different password for every different account you set up. Yes, it’s hard to keep track of them all, but that’s easier than the hassle of trying to get your money back after you’ve been scammed. There are trusted sites such as LastPass that generate and safely store secure passwords for you.
Tip #2: Be careful where and how you shop
Just like banking, online shopping should only be done on a device you own, using a network you trust. In other words, don’t spend the afternoon shopping for all your holiday gifts using the free public Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop.
Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using public Wi-Fi and don’t access your personal information on these networks. And only shop on sites with URLs that begin with “https” (rather than just http). The extra “s” means the site is secure.
Also, monitor your bank and credit card statements for any unexpected or erroneous charges. And whenever possible, use a credit card to make online purchases instead of money transfers from your bank account. That way, if there is a fraudulent charge, the credit card company can reimburse you – provided you took security precautions.
A quick note on credit cards…
For the savvy shopper, spending holidays can be a great time to save a few bucks on gifts and toys for the kids, maybe pick up the smartphone you’ve been eyeing, or grab that patio set you’ll need come spring. But getting caught up in these sales has a downside – particularly, online fraud, travel costs and steep exchange rates/fees.
The good news? Your credit card can go a long way in protecting you from shopping pitfalls. Check out our top credit cards for your 2018 Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases.
For example, the Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card and the BMO CashBack World Elite MasterCard offer Purchase Protection and Extended Warranty, giving you the extra peace of mind on hastily-made purchases if they are stolen or turn out to be duds.
Tip #3: Don’t fall victim to phishing expeditions
Be very careful when following links in emails that lead you from one site to another. They could take you to a site that looks exactly like the site of a trusted retailer, when it is really a front to steal your information.
Look for spelling and format errors in the content of the email. Scammers may try to fool you into thinking they are trustworthy by making slight changes you may overlook (i.e. email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you’re not sure, call the company directly and speak to someone who can confirm if the message or site is legitimate or not.
With all that in mind, happy shopping and spend wisely!
This post has been updated.