The holiday season has again crept up on us quicker than anticipated, and the consumer craze and bargain-hunting that go along with it is already in full swing.

In the United States, buyers shell out more than $1 trillion in retail sales in trying to find the perfect gift. And in-store purchases now account for less than half of that revenue, with shoppers preferring to avoid Black Friday chaos and shop from the comfort of their own home.

That kind of spending reiterates the need to be vigilant in watching out for scams and avoiding data breaches. If there’s one group that doesn’t take time off during the holiday season, it’s hackers.

The Equifax breach that saw more than 140 million people have information compromised is still fresh in our minds, and Javelin Strategy & Research found that identify theft resulted in $16 billion being stolen in the U.S. in 2016.

With those stats in mind, here are some tips to avoid being swindled this holiday season.

1 . Shop Smart

The best piece of advice during Cyber Monday might be the most generic: Be smart. So many online shopping scams stem from carelessness or haphazardly clicking on phony ads. The same goes for unsolicited emails; if you get something from an unknown sender that you weren’t expecting, it’s probably your best bet to leave it unopened.

Don’t fall for false e-commerce lookalike sites, either. It’s not uncommon for hackers to lure fraud victims in with facsimiles of popular sites like Amazon or other retailers. When you’re shopping, make sure your URL matches up with the site you’re on and starts with “https,” which signifies the page is secure.

2 . Use Secure Connections

Connect to secure, trusted Wi-Fi networks if you can’t use a safe connection at home. It’s probably best not to risk using a free network at all, as stealing data becomes incredibly easy for hackers this way.

As one expert put it in a Small Business Computing article, transferring data via unsecure connections is “a lot like sending a postcard. There is nothing preventing [hackers] from seeing the actual communication.”

 

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3 . Keep An Eye On Your Bank Accounts

You should keep a steady eye on your bank accounts year-round, but it’s an especially good idea during the holiday shopping season. Kaspersky Labs found that “the share of financial phishing” during Q4 (October, November, December) is nine percentage points higher than the rest of the year.

The Chicago Tribune reports that it’s better to use a credit card for holiday shopping. According to Tribune, credit cards have more safeguards against fraud.

4 . Secure Your Systems

Keeping up with software updates – both on your computer and your phone – is an effective way to make sure your devices aren’t compromised. It’s a simple fix, and it will prevent your devices from slowing down, too.

With the holiday season approaching, make sure you’ve got updated anti-malware and anti-virus protection.

5 . Strengthen Your Passwords

We know -- keeping track of all of your passwords is a hassle, but it’s worth it. Using diverse and hard-to-guess passwords helps your data stay secure. Getting a password manager can make your life easier and it’s likely worth the cost.

It’s a good idea to use separate usernames and passwords for your shopping. And, don’t save your passwords or credit card information on websites.

 

Protect your customers from Holiday Hacking Season.

 
Better Safe Than Sorry

The holiday season should be a time for family and friends, not identify theft scares. Be smart, and cognizant of the fact that it’s prime time for hackers come November and December.

Common sense is the best defense against scams. Be extra cautious when making purchases online and keep an eye on your bank account throughout the holidays. Better safe than sorry.

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Best Practices Consumer Product Strategy

Jake Schild

Jake Schild

A former newspaper reporter and native Minnesotan, Jake Schild is a staff writer in the marketing department at ULG.

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