9 Ways to Shop Safely This Holiday Season

Last year I was unprepared for Thanksgiving. We were halfway through COVID-19 quarantine protocols, so our celebrations with friends and family were all virtual. Our dinner was lukewarm delivery Chinese food, and we didn’t even bother to put up the Christmas tree. I barely looked through the Black Friday deals online. What can I say ? We experienced it in 2020.

This year is different. We’re still in a global pandemic, but the accessibility of vaccines and boosters in the United States means we can see our older parents in person. We can cook a turkey, light a Christmas tree and celebrate the season. And the tradition of shopping is back, albeit still online, albeit a little trickier this year.

Online shopping can be risky, as Neil J. Rubenking, PCMag’s chief security analyst, writes. From shady websites to deals too good to be true, it’s important to remain vigilant when handing out payment details during peak online shopping season.

Here are nine ways to shop safely online this holiday season:

1. Use a credit card

When you use a credit card to make transactions, you have zero liability pay for a fraudulent transaction. Debit cards offer some protection, but they are not as strong or universal as those offered by credit cards. If you make a purchase and the seller doesn’t deliver, or worse, an unauthorized person makes purchases with your card, you can report this fraud to your credit card provider. Some banks offer disposable credit card numbers to make online shopping even more secure, as do some security services like Abine Blur.

2. Do your research

If someone is selling a high-end graphics card for $ 20 amid the chip shortage and inflation, well, that deal is probably too good to be true. The easiest way to avoid fraud is to check sellers carefully before making a purchase. Do your research by checking their profile for reviews. If it’s a business based in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, search for it on the Better Business Bureau website.

Here’s something you’re likely to encounter this holiday season: smishing. This is SMS phishing. If you’ve ever received an SMS from an unknown number with a link to a good deal, it was probably a scam. Clicking on any link from an unknown number is a bad idea.

Even if your phone or caller number shows the name of someone you know, call or text the person to ask if they’ve sent you a link before clicking it. Scammers can easily spoof local numbers and catch you off guard with phishing links.

4. Watch for typos

Keep an eye out for minor typos in familiar web addresses. The biggest online retail stores buy common typo domains and redirect them to the actual site, but that doesn’t mean you should feel free to navigate your way through this holiday shopping season. in line. Scammers set up websites that look like large retail sites, but with slightly different URLs. Maybe they end with .co rather than .com or with a number 1 instead of an “l”. Look carefully at all URLs for typos intended to deceive you.

5. Buy on secure sites

Any online merchant site must use HTTPS. This means that if you don’t see the little padlock in the address bar while you are shopping, the site you are on is not secure. Some browsers, such as Chrome, mark sites without a lock as insecure. Don’t wait for your browser to warn you; keep an eye on the address bar and stay safe.

6. Hide your email

Buying anything online usually requires giving out a considerable amount of personal information. For example, at a minimum you should give your name, address, email address, phone number, and credit card details.

Disposable email address utilities (DEA) such as ManyMe allow you to control who has your real email address. The merchant obtains a unique DEA. This means that the mail sent to you arrives in your inbox, but your responses come from the DEA.

DEAs are especially useful when dealing with merchants prone to spamming inboxes. If your address starts receiving spam, simply cancel the DEA. The merchant never received your real email address, so you will no longer receive emails from them or spam from third parties.

You can never be too careful with the information you share on the Internet. If you’re looking for other ways to protect your privacy, check out this assortment of apps to maintain anonymity online.

7. Avoid over-sharing

Beware of merchants who ask for more than the minimum number of details about you when making your purchase. For example, if you are buying a new laptop, it is reasonable for a merchant to ask for your physical address, but very suspicious if they ask for your SSN or your mother’s maiden name.

8. Use a password manager

Commercial sites will always encourage you to register on their site when you make a purchase. This means that you give the merchant a username or email address as well as a password. Don’t use the same password for every site you use this holiday season!

Get a password manager. Install the browser extension and let the manager create and store all the strong and unique passwords you need. You don’t need to memorize passwords yourself. The password manager does the hard job of remembering the passwords for you when you return to the website later.

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9. Stay at home

Staying at home rather than shopping online at a local cafe or other public space means you don’t have to worry about using questionable public Wi-Fi networks to transact. You can even keep all of your credit card information and passwords safe in a password manager vault. It’s just safer and easier than shopping in public.

If you have to go out and want to shop online during this time, turn off the Wi-Fi and just use cellular data while shopping. You can also install a VPN app on your phone, which will encrypt your communications.

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Set up a VPN to spoof your location

On a trip to Paris, my husband and I were relegated to our hotel room for much of the trip due to the relentless downpours. We made the most of it and took advantage of room service and lots of French Netflix. As a result, we got very invested in one particular high-profile drama series and couldn’t stop talking about it, even when we returned to the United States.

Much to our dismay, although it was an English-language show, it was not in our local Netflix library. What to do? I suggested returning to Paris immediately, but a more sensible and less expensive option might be to spoof our location with a VPN.

As senior security analyst Max Eddy writes, a VPN is a great choice for location spoofing. Most of the VPNs we’ve tested allow you to choose specific servers in a particular country. You simply download the VPN app of your choice and then connect to a server in the country you want to access.

Be aware that some sites and services may filter your location as part of their security measures. Some sites and services can also block you outright because they block VPN access. You should use a free VPN to test locations to make sure you can access, for example, the French version of Netflix. No need to pay for a service that might be unnecessary due to a blockage. Just keep in mind that sites can allow VPNs one day and block them the next. Sometimes it’s a leap-frog between the sites blocking VPNs and the VPN providers who figure out how to get around these blocks.

Some VPNs also sell dedicated IP addresses. A dedicated IP address only carries your traffic through, making it less unusual than a VPN server and less likely to be blocked by a site or service.

What else is happening in the security world this week?

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