Shopping online? Don’t get Scrooged

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Black Friday is behind us; now it’s on to Cyber Monday and its insanely good deals. But if you’re not careful, it’s also an insanely easy way for cyber thieves to scam you.

Since 2000, online shopping has exploded among American consumers. A recent Pew Research study reveals roughly eight in 10 Americans are online shoppers, and 15 percent buy online on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this uptick in cyber shopping comes with unwanted side effects.

With more and more people shopping online every year, cyber criminals are always looking to take advantage. It’s more important than ever for shoppers to avoid potential risks when stuffing those virtual shopping carts.

The SANS Institute says the best way to protect yourself online is shopping only at trusted websites with an established reputation. Criminals create these fake websites by replicating the look of real sites or using the names of well-known stores or brands. They then use these fraudulent websites to prey on people who are looking for the best deal possible or hard-to-find items. SANS says you can protect yourself by doing the following:

  • When possible, purchase from websites that you already know, trust, and have done business with previously.
  • Verify the website has a legitimate mailing address and a phone number for sales or support-related questions. If the site looks suspicious, call and speak to a human. If you can’t get through to someone, that is the first big sign you are dealing with a fake website.
  • Look for obvious warning signs, like deals that are obviously too good to be true or poor grammar and spelling.
  • Be very suspicious if a website appears to be an exact replica of a well-known website you have used in the past, but its domain name or the name of the store is slightly different. For example, you may be used to shopping online at Amazon, whose website is https://www.amazon.com. But be very suspicious if you find yourself at websites pretending to be Amazon, such as http://store-amazoncom.com.
  • Type the store’s name or URL into a search engine and see what other people have said about the website in the past. Look for terms like “fraud, scam, never again or fake.” A lack of reviews can also be a sign indicating that the website is very new and might not be trustworthy.
  • Before purchasing any items, make sure your connection to the website is encrypted. Most browsers show a connection is encrypted by having a lock and/or the letters HTTPS in green right before the website’s name.

For additional info on safe online shopping and securing your credit cards and mobile devices, check out the latest edition of the OUCH! Security Awareness Newsletter from SANS Institute.

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