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We know you’re looking for amazing deals this weekend, so we want to give you a few tips to keep your data safe while you do it.

[caption id="attachment_5366" align="alignright" width="450"] Thusith at STLCyberCon earlier this month.[/caption]

Whether you’re camping out in front of your local mall or shopping in the comfort of your home in your PJs, there are a lot of risks to shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

When you’re shopping at a mall, retail store, or online, you need to be aware of the risks. At a brick-and-mortar store, you need to be aware of the mobs of people running towards the same TV, stealing your personal belongings or hitting your car with their cart (I can’t be the only one this has happened to, right?). Online, the threats are often invisible or impossible to predict. Hackers interested in stealing your personal information, viruses sent with the intent to corrupt your files, and sketchy sites selling products you’ll never get. 

No matter what threats you face, it’s important to be aware of them so you can prevent them. We won’t pretend to be experts in personal safety, but we do know a thing or two about web security and keeping your data safe online. In fact, we have two resident cybersecurity experts on staff who recently attended a cybersecurity conference in St. Louis. Thusith and Aruna were able to give us a few tips about keeping personal data safe and we wanted to share them so you can stay “cyber-safe” this holiday shopping season too! 

 

Use familiar websites. When you go through your email or social media, you may be served advertisements from unfamiliar companies with amazing deals. These offers can be tempting, but before you head to the check-out and give them your credit card number, take a moment to verify the site you’re using. If you’re shopping somewhere new, try doing a quick search for the brand just to be sure they’re legitimate. 

Verify the safety of the sites you’re using. 

Every e-commerce site you use should have an SSL (or secure sockets layer) certificate that verifies it’s secure to use. Websites with an SSL Certificate have an extra layer of protection that encrypts data passing from one server to another so it can’t be read if intercepted. This is incredibly important for sites that accept personal information. 

To know if a website you’re using is secure, just look at the address bar in your browser. If the URL starts with “https” (emphasis on that final “s”) or you see a lock icon next to the address, you know the site has an SSL certificate and is safe to use. If the site doesn’t have that layer of security, consider finding a new place to shop. 

Don’t give too much information. 

For the most part, e-commerce sites don’t need your birthdate or social security to do business. However, hackers need that information to successfully steal your identity. So, don’t give them out, especially if there is no SSL Certificate. 

Keep an eye on your statements. 

You probably do this anyway, but make sure you’re keeping a close eye on your bank statements this time of year. Check for any fraudulent charges so you can catch and report them as soon as possible. If you use mobile banking, see if they can send you notifications whenever your account is charged. It can get annoying if you’re doing a lot of shopping all at once but comes in handy if a mistake occurs (like when a restaurant accidentally adds a $300 tip to your check!). 

Keep everything up-to-date. 

While doing your shopping, make sure to update your browsers, security software (malware and virus protection), and your ad blockers. When these are out of date, they won’t serve you as well and can allow malware and viruses to creep in and compromise your computer and your data. 

Only shop on private, secure networks. 

If you’re sitting at a coffee shop and you see an amazing online deal you HAVE you have, stop. When using public wi-fi networks like those at your favorite coffee shop, it is easy for hackers to get in and track information back to your computer and compromise your data. Save the deal to your cart and come back to it when you’re back on your own private network. You can also consider browsing “incognito” by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N (for Chrome users). These tabs don’t store any data, cookies, passwords, bookmarks, or browsing history so they are safer for browsing. 

Create strong passwords. 

You’ve been told a million times since the dawn of the internet how important it is to create strong and unique passwords. Create passwords that are between eight and twelve characters long, use a combination of capital and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters (not including the “@” symbol) that are hard to guess. The passwords you create from different accounts should be different so even if one account gets compromised, the rest will be harder to crack. 

Use a secure payment. 

If you can, use a credit card or prepaid gift card for your holiday shopping. In the event of fraudulent charges, it is faster and easier to cancel a credit card and have the funds refunded than with most bank cards. Gift cards can’t be traced back to you or your account and can’t be used for more purchases down the line. 

Use your gut. 

When surfing the web, you’re served a lot of advertisements for products or deals. You may even receive emails from your favorite retailers offering you “an exclusive deal just for you!” Be wary and trust your instincts. If a deal seems too good to be true, well, it probably is. 

 

Keep your money and data safe

No matter how many great deals you find this Black Friday, do your due diligence to make sure your personal information stays safe. Keep these tips in mind while you’re doing your holiday shopping for friends, loved ones, or yourself (hey, we won’t judge!). Happy deal finding! 

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