Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost here, so we thought we’d share some tips to make sure you stay safe whether you’re shopping online or offline in the real world. If you remember, quite a few large box stores, including, ironically, Target, were compromised with credit card numbers stolen by the bad guys. We have some ways you can help avoid hassles beyond just using cash.
Additionally, we’re going to look at the ways to make sure you’re safe when you’re shopping online. With all the promotion Black Friday sales get each and every year, it’s ripe for cyber criminals as much as it would be for pick-pockets in a crowded mall during the holidays. Anyway, keep reading and be sure to be a good friend and pass this along via Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social network you use.
Top Black Friday 2014 Security Tips
As mentioned, we’re going to start with some offline Black Friday shopping security tips and then move into some of the best ways to stay safe online. A lot of this is common sense to some, but it’s a good idea to share it around big holidays like Thanksgiving 2014 and Black Friday.
Black Friday Offline Shopping Security Tips
Are you brave enough to skip sleep and venture out to the stores before the sun comes up? If so, you’re a die hard Black Friday participant. Here are some tips to stay safe this year if you’re out and about shopping for your holiday gifts or just trying to get a good deal and save some money.
- Use Cash – This isn’t always practical and comes with its own risks, but if you can be in and out of a store with just enough cash for your purchase, you should be okay. Just keep the money (purse or wallet) tucked away until you’re at the register and about to pay. Don’t even pull it out in line. This may get you dirty looks from people in a rush, but you have to think about the chaos that is Black Friday and what it does to ordinary people.
- Pre-Paid Cards – You can get a pre-paid credit / debit card rather easily these days. Green Dot is one company that has them. Walmart’s new Bluebird product is similar. (Note the HTTPS in the URL of those websites. We’ll get into that more below.) With this, you can open the account, load it up with funds and use it. If it gets compromised, you don’t have to worry about your major credit card. It’s still a hassle, but it’s something to consider.
Black Friday Online Shopping Security Tips
Shopping in the “real world” sounds dangerous and scary, right? The good news is that it’s easy and safe to shop online and get all the 2014 Black Friday deals without leaving the comfort of your home. You still want to ensure that you’re safe when you’re shopping online, of course, so here’s a rundown reminder of a few of the things you want to think about.
- Use Virtual Payments – Whether it’s Paypal or another online payments system, you can sometimes avoid using your main credit card entirely. Not all retailers accept other types of payments, but companies like Paypal offer the ability to get a debit card that you can use to shop online. You still have the chance of being hacked, of course, which is why you should keep reading.
- Password Security – Don’t like super long and complicated passwords? Too bad. You need one these days. If you don’t have one, you’re going to get hacked. Whether it’s your email account or your bank account, you want to lock it down securely with a hard to guess password with lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and punctuation. Even better, get a “Password Wallet” that enables you to have one master password to get into all your different online account.
- HTTPS / SSL / TLS – Yes, I just rattled off a lot of letters. You don’t need to know how they work exactly, but you should know how to look for them. If a site is secure and encrypted, you will get a little padlock icon in your browser address window. Also, the URL will start with HTTPS instead of HTTP. Some websites will turn the URL window green to signify it’s safe, so it’s good to look for that visual sign as well. Basically, if you’re going to be entering a password or any information like and address or credit card number, you want to make sure the website is using HTTPS. If not, your data could be scooped up by bad guys.
- Free Best Buy Gift Card Scam – Back during Black Friday 2013, one of the big scams was the bad guys offering $1,000 Best Buy gift cards. No one won. A lot of people gave away their personal information for no reason at all.
- Fake Ads and Coupons – In addition to fake ads for Best Buy and other big box stores, you want to look out for fake online ads and coupons in general. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Even (especially) on Black Friday!
- Fake eCards and Videos – Get a virtual e-card or video from someone you don’t know or someone you haven’t heard from in years? In all likelihood, it’s a scam. Stay away at all costs. Not all ecards are fakes, but you really need to be vigilant before clicking on one in your email or on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Internet Searches bring links with malware – If you use Google, they will sometimes tell you that a site in their results is infected with Malware. This is a good sign that you do NOT want to click on the link and go to the website. The bad guys will make it sound like you’ll be a billionaire if only you click on the link, but that’s the trick. Other anti-virus software may warn you of these websites too.
- Closing Pop-Ups, Pop-Unders – A lot of advertising you’re seeing online is legitimate, but there are always bad apples in the bunch. If you need to close a window, be careful because some people like to add fake X close buttons and more to trip you up. Remember these keyboard commands to make sure you close a window – Control + F4 for Windows and Command + W for Macs.
You also want to avoid “sketchy” websites whenever possible. If you’re not sure, search Google or Bing for the company name to see what comes up. If you don’t find a contact phone number or at least an email on the website in question, you can classify it as sketchy. Once you’ve spent a little time online, you’ll be able to spot a questionable site and avoid it before you get into trouble.
How to Lock Down and Secure Your Mobile Device
Next, we’re going to take a look at mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. These are becoming very common, but a lot of people don’t realize you need to be just as safe (if not safer) when using these types of computers.
- Keep it Updated – Don’t want to take the time to download updates for your operating system and apps? Too bad. It’s part of modern life. If you don’t, you’re making yourself a huge target.
Remember Aunt Marge and Uncle Ernest!
Remember, the tips and advice above may seem a bit basic, but does Aunt Marge know how to stay safe this Black Friday? While she might not fall for the classic Nigerian Prince email phishing scam, you can still be helpful by sharing this article with her. If nothing else, it’s a topic you can bring up around the table at Thanksgiving dinner so that you don’t have to talk about embarrassing stories from your childhood.
If you have any additional advice, leave a comment below. We love to hear from our readers.