The festive season is in full swing and the Christmas rush has set in. With advances in technology, easier access to websites and the need for convenience, ticking off your Christmas gift list with the help of online stores has become the new norm for Christmas shopping. Not only is this a convenient way to avoid crowds and traffic, it also makes the season a cash cow for would be criminals lurking on the web looking for people to scam.
Here are our 8 top tips to keep you safe this Christmas season:
1. Know your scams
Cyber-fraud has advanced so much in recent years that its becoming easier for criminals to legitimately gain your details without you even realising. Phishing scams, fraudulent websites and social media forging are becoming so sophisticated in their appearance and language that even veteran scam spotters are having a harder time spotting them.
Only open links or emails from senders that you know and trust. Everyone can be anyone on the web, so it’s always safe practice to question the legitimacy of any links or emails even if you just vaguely know a contact. Criminals have become much smarter and faster at intercepting and fronting emails or messages to gain your details.
Stay safe online by reading up on the latest scams and avoid becoming a victim of cyber-fraud.
2. Install a good firewall
While not 100% fool-proof, firewall software packages are an added layer of security for online browsing. Effectively, a firewall is a piece of software that filters out spam and ‘dirty’ web from your normal website traffic and keeps you safe from automatic malware attacks or downloads that can covertly be placed on your device.
Windows operating systems already have a built-in firewall and many antivirus software suites have their own firewalls included. But if you’re looking for a decent firewall to keep you protected, there are some fantastic and free alternatives online.
3. Have a strong password
Sadly, the most commonly used passwords are often the easiest to remember, for example: ‘iloveyou’ and ‘password’. But these easy passwords are simply a walk in the park for even the most rookie hacker to crack. Creating a truly unbreakable password will keep your data safe and deter any cyber-attacks and mostly importantly give you peace of mind. Add numbers, capital letters and special characters such as; !, @, #, etc. and if you are really stuck use a password generator.
4. Always check the URL
If you’re shopping online, always check the URL you’re on. Certified and safe online stores have a green padlock in the address bar. This means that the website has received a certificate of encryption, meaning whatever card data or personal details you add to their site, it will be encrypted and protected.
According to Firefox, the green padlock represents a website that does not have an intercepted connection, the website is using an Extended Validation certificate which goes through rigorous website health checks and is a legal company. Always keep an eye out for the green padlock to ensure your safety online.
5. Don’t open eCards
One of the quickest ways that a hacker installs malware on your device is by sending a fake eCard with Christmas wishes. As we mentioned earlier, be wary of links in emails from people you know well or barely know at all. Microsoft office lets you hover over a link to see the full URL. A quick search in Google should be able to tell you if the domain has any fraud associated with it.
6. Regularly back up your data
Ransomware is becoming more aggressive and with no prejudice to its victims. A student paying off a loan can just as easily be targeted for a million-pound ransom, as a major corporate company. Regular backups of your data should form the basis of your personal cyber-security strategy. It is easier to restore your device to a previous backup, than pay an exorbitant ransom amount to unlock your data.
7. Don’t use public Wi-Fis
Public Wi-Fi hotspots and access points, while convenient, are a breeding ground for cyber-fraud. With the bare minimum settings for encryption on the connection and no password to protect it, anyone can join and browse the network. Using a Virtual Private Network and disabling your sharing properties will add an extra layer of security on a public network. Confirming the network name with the establishment that offers the Wi-Fi service is also very important to protecting your information.
Once you’ve connected, stick to browsing HTTPS and SSL websites. These are certificates of encryption. Websites such as Gmail and Facebook have their own added layer of traffic encryption and will keep your details safe when you use them to log in.
8. Use a credit card for online purchases
If you’re shopping online, make sure you use a credit card for online purchases. Usually banks have an easier time refunding you for a fraudulent transaction on a credit card than they do on debit card. The reason for this is because you haven’t lost any money on a credit card. A bank will simply credit your account on your statement at the end of the month.
A debit card, however, is physical money that has been taken from your account and will require more evidence before a bank can get it back.
In summary, cyber-fraud is a global problem with attacks happening daily and Christmas is no exception. Identity theft, banking fraud and malware are common place in today’s digital society. Criminals seek out opportunities every day of the year to defraud you, so be vigilant this festive season and keep an eye out for any fraudulent behaviour online.