Paul Tarins, RICP®,WMCP®,CSRIC™
According to a recent survey, 87 percent of U.S. adults feel that the risk of becoming a victim of a cybercrime is growing.1 In fact, online crimes including server breaches are the single largest criminal threat facing small businesses.
For large and small businesses alike, it should come as no surprise that more Americans have been shopping online due to the COVID-19 pandemic - and this trend will likely continue until the pandemic subsides. In fact, with Cyber Monday approaching, these numbers are expected to rise. In 2019, Cyber Monday shattered the online sales record with $9.4 billion in revenue - and that was before social distancing.2
This means that protecting yourself when you shop online is something you need to take seriously. These seven tips can help holiday online shoppers safeguard information when buying from an online retailer.
Tip #1: Create Secure Passwords
Your password is the first line of defense - meaning you’ll want to make it a strong one. Avoid simple, easy to figure out passwords like “Pass1234” or “0000” - even birthdays and anniversary dates are easy for hackers to figure out.
If your computer supports the ability to generate random passwords, this can be the safest option. If you do not have that option, create a password free from full words, names, dates, phone numbers or addresses. Instead, try using partial words and symbols to replace letters such as '!' for an 'i,' '$' for an 's,' and '@' for an 'a.'
Don't forget to change your passwords on a regular basis and avoid keeping a list of your passwords on your computer.
Tip #2: Protect Your Passwords
Always use a different password for each site or service you use. This is an important step in preventing hackers from gaining access to all of your other accounts if one becomes compromised. Avoid sharing your password with others, even friends and family. If another person's computer is hacked, this could put your personal information in danger as well.
Tip #3: Invest in Quality Cybersecurity Software
If you don’t have it already, seriously consider installing cybersecurity software on your computer. This software can help identify and prevent viruses from downloading to your computer system. While there are free programs available, they don’t always provide the latest updates. There are low-cost cybersecurity options to choose from, and their small upfront cost can be worth it to safeguard your personal information.
Tip #4: Be Wary of Links
In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid clicking on any links you receive in an email or chat - especially if they’re from a stranger or unfamiliar company. It’s entirely too easy for hackers to make links appear trustworthy or like they’re coming from a reliable source, when in reality they’re not.
If you’re unsure about the validity of a link, try typing the URL directly into your browser’s address bar.
Tip #5: Don't Put Yourself at Risk
The internet is immense, and there are some parts you simply want to stay away from. Visiting certain types of sites which contain adult entertainment, certain discussion forums, file-sharing sites and streaming services can lead to an increased likelihood of downloading a virus to your computer.
As an online shopper, you’ll want to be especially vigilant of sites that appear to boast too-good-to-be-true offers or list items for sale at a substantially lower price than others. If it does not appear to be reputable, it could be putting your computer or personal information in danger.
Tip #6: Don't Use Debit Cards Online
Once you make a purchase with a debit card, the money is immediately deducted from your bank account. If a cybercriminal gains access to your debit card information, the criminal can quickly drain your bank account. While you may get your money back, you will likely not have access to your funds until your bank resolves the issue. Instead, use a credit card and let your credit card company worry about it.
Tip #7: Check Your Credit Score for Changes
Set aside a day each month to check your credit score - maybe make it a habit to check on the same day you pay your bills each month. There are several sites that offer free credit scores, and many banks or credit unions offer the service to their customers. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service for extra protection.
Cybercrime is scary, but it is part of modern-day life. Taking precautions like those above can help you lower your chances of becoming another victim.
Paul Tarins is an investment adviser representative of and offers investment and advisory services through Portfolio Medics, a registered investment adviser. Nothing contained herein should be construed as a solicitation for investment advisory services. Sovereign Retirement Solutions and Portfolio Medics are not affiliated.