10 Tips for SAFE Holiday Shopping

Category: Shopping

With less than three weeks left until Christmas, it’s time to kick your online shopping into high gear. But think about shopping safely, not just early. Along with the e-commerce boom has come an explosion of related scams, frauds, and outright thefts of goods, identity and financial data. Before you go shopping online for deals, take these steps to protect yourself...

Safe Online Shopping Tips

Last week, I offered up Ten Tips for Online Holiday Shoppers, which focused on saving money with rebates, coupons, price comparison sites, and other tools for savvy shoppers. Today, the focus is on safety.

FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service do a pretty good job of safely delivering your packages. The USPS alone expects to handle 600 million packages this holiday season, up 10.5% from last year’s record. But what about staying safe online while racking up all those holiday purchases? I've got ten tips for you today, to help ensure that you and your computer stay out of potential danger zones while shopping online.

1. Update Your Operating System: If you are still using Windows XP or Vista you shouldn’t even be checking your email, let alone buying anything online. These obsolete operating systems no longer receive even critical security updates, so the longer they’re used the more vulnerable they become. If you’re using Windows 7 or later, make sure all important updates are installed before you go shopping. Just type “Windows Update” in the Start menu’s search box, run that program, and let it check for updates. See Is Your Operating System Secure? for details.

Safe Holiday Shopping Online

2. Secure Your Software: It’s equally important to keep your application software up to date. That includes Web browsers and their plugins or addons; media players such as Adobe Flash Player or VLC Media Player; PDF readers from Adobe or third parties; and especially drivers for printers and other peripherals. See my article, Keeping Software Updated Simply for tips on streamlining and automating updates.

3. Bolster Your Security: Every online device needs at least two lines of defense against malware and intruders. Anti-malware programs protects against incoming attacks. Firewall software, either built into your network’s router or add-on software you install on your computer, can block intrusions or prevent users from accessing dangerous sites. See my list of Free Anti-Virus Software and the article, Do I Need An Outbound Firewall?.

4. Be on Guard for Identity Fraud: A holiday shopping spree, online or in stores, can leave your credit card and/or banking details scattered all over the place. Given the rising frequency and size of data breaches among retailers and financial institutions, it’s almost certain that at least one of the sellers from whom you buy a holiday gift will lose your personal data to crooks. My article 10 Tips: Identity Theft Protection can help you avoid becoming a victim.

5. Use Powerful Passwords: Lazy, obvious passwords like “12345678,” a user’s first name, and even “password” are still among the most common passwords in use. Many sites now require a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and non-alphabetic characters. Password managers can take the work out of generating, storing, and remembering strong passwords for all the sites that require them. See Best Passord Managers of 2015. But I argue that even a strong password isn't enough. The best protection is two-factor authentication; use it on any site that offers it.

More Safe Shopping Tips

6. Watch Out For Phishers: Identity thieves are relying less on automated mass spam campaigns and more on targeted “phishing” for unwary victims who will volunteer their sensitive data. Some Surprising Stats on Phishing from Google and UC San Diego found that one out of seven phishing targets take the bait. Don’t be one of them! It’s getting harder to detect phishing emails just by looking at them; an anti-malware program that includes phishing protection is a good investment.

7. Beware of Foistware: “Foistware” is unwanted software that is foisted upon you when you install desired software. Often, foistware includes tracking and spying software that can result in more spam, phishing emails, and other attentions from online crooks. See my article, Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs for more on this plague. Get rid of foistware before going shopping, and be very attentive when installing any new software; uncheck any boxes that would give permission to install unwanted software. In particular, beware of any Web site that says, “You must install this (unfamiliar) plugin to view content; click here to install.” Get your plugins only from known, safe sources, never by clicking on an unknown site’s button.

8. Don't Fall for the Fake Tech Support Scam: If you get a shiny new Internet toy this holiday season, you may also get a phone call or email offering you “free tech support,” or telling you that your device has a bug or malware that needs immediate remedy. Without exception, such offers of free help are actually made by scammers who want to gain remote access to your device, or con you into giving them credit card details for “escalated support.” These con artists are very good; in a Microsoft survey, 22% of people who received “free tech support” calls fell for the scam. Just hang up on anyone who offers you free tech support by phone, and delete any such email without clicking on any links in it. See my related article Beware the Fake Tech Support Scam.

9. Avoid Penny Auctions: Bargain-hunting online may lead you into the temptation of a “penny auction,” where high-end electronics are offered with starting bids of only a penny. That catch is that you have to pay to bid, and you won’t win. See my article, Penny Auctions: Scam or Legit? to understand how this scam works and avoid falling victim to it.

10. Skip the Warranty: Perhaps the easiest way to get a person to do something stupid is to convince him it’s the smart thing to do. That is how every “extended warranty” and “device insurance” scam works, in stores or online. My article, SCAM ALERT: Mobile Device Insurance and Extended Warranties explains why you should always skip these extra expenses.

Do you have any safe shopping tips to add? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "10 Tips for SAFE Holiday Shopping"

Posted by:

Warren Ngo
07 Dec 2015

regarding tip no. 7. "Foistware". Having been stung all too often by crapware and foistware when downloading software from formerly trusted sites, I'm now downloading software from ninite.com. The selection of software offered may not be as comprehensive as others, but at least there are no unwanted tool bars and crapware foisted on unsuspecting clients.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2015

I know this site is aimed primarily at computer users, but I'd like to add a precaution to anyone who uses Android, Apple, or even Facebook Apps. Before you download something !check the permissions the App wants to use!!! I've encountered Apps that essentially bypass most all of one's security and privacy settings, and reports your personal content and activities back to the source.

Supposedly one semi-popular Facebook App that tells you how often you use certain words in your posts essentially downloads everything you've written on your page (including messages) to the App site for analysis, which means all your information is on their servers.

Be careful, and look before you download.

Posted by:

Monte Crooks
07 Dec 2015

Thank you, Bob! I read each of the articles as you published them; but, now that I have the compilation of all these absolutely essential e-safety recommendations, I'm making sure my whole family (from California, to Oklahoma, to Maryland) have them. Ask Bob has, again, performed a vital service for all of U.S.!!

Posted by:

07 Dec 2015

Thanks as always Bob! Just one point I have to add is that Vista SP2 is receiving extended support until April 2017 which includes critical security updates. I agree it's outdated but some people may not be in a position financially to update their systems. They need to make sure they have SP2 in order to get the extended support! If they don't have it, by all means do so NOW! Three words: UPDATE, Antivirus, Firewall! PeerBlock & HostsMan will help as well... Have a blessed holiday season everybody!

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