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Tips for safe online holiday shopping

December 12, 2022

’Tis the season to be on guard for cyber threats.

As we gear up for the busiest online shopping season of the year, it creates an environment ripe for cyber scams and phishing attacks.

Deloitte's 2022 Holiday Retail Survey found that 63 per cent of shoppers prefer to shop online for gifts and other seasonal deals. Malicious actors are eager to cash in on online shoppers who have let their guard down.

Phishing attacks are among the most common tactics cybercriminals use, mainly because they are simple and take advantage of the fact that people are in a rush. Phishing links lead to fake pages that look like a victim’s chosen retailer, prompting the victim to enter their login details or other personal information such as credit cards.

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“We do tend to see an uptick in successful phishing attacks around holidays and long weekends,” said Jonathan Weekes, senior vice president and cyber practice leader at leading insurance broker HUB International. “People are often keen to seek out great deals and hastily click on links that appear to be for sales or coupons for products they love, not realizing they are downloading malicious software or being taken to a site intended to harvest their credentials.”

Slow down

Many cyber breaches occur due to human error or negligence, which is why it’s important for shoppers to slow down. “Taking a couple of extra seconds to verify the links embedded in emails can go a long way in preventing an unfortunate situation,” Weekes said.

The Retail Council of Canada offers these tips for a safe holiday online shopping season:

  1. Always use a secure Internet connection and try to avoid free Wi-Fi locations. Ensure the online retailer has a secure site, indicated by a little lock icon in your browser and “https” instead of “http” in the URL string.
  2. Only shop on retailer sites that take secure payment. These include credit cards, digital wallets (for mobile) or PayPal accounts that are linked to your credit card or bank accounts.
  3. Always make sure whatever device you are using has an updated operating system. It is never a bad idea to have anti-virus, anti-malware and a firewall installed on your device as well.
  4. Have good strong passwords or passphrases that include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and are at least 8 characters long. Make it a good habit to change your password regularly, especially as we get into the holiday season.
  5. Print or keep the email of your order confirmation. It is proof that you purchased the item and how you paid for it.
  6. Delete any suspicious emails or texts and never open one that has attachments or links. If you receive an email or text that indicates there is an issue with your order, it could be a scam. Call customer service or log on to your online account. Never send personal or financial information through email or text.

“The holiday season always provides cybercriminals with ample opportunities to impersonate online vendors' emails and websites to steal information, infect computers, and commit fraud,” said Matthieu Chan Tsin, director of cyber threat intelligence at Cowbell. “We all are distracted, even stressed, leading to the holiday preparation, but this is a time to double down on cyber vigilance.”

Monitor accounts

Shoppers should also frequently monitor credit or debit card accounts and bank balances. This will help spot any fraudulent purchases and allow them to notify their providers as soon as possible.

“Do not store credentials or credit card information on your computer,” Weekes said. “Bad actors can often be in your computer or network for quite some time, exploring and gathering information to steal or leverage against you in a ransomware attack.”

The Government of Canada offers several resources to help people stay cyber-safe over the holidays, including a passphrase generator. Having unique passwords is an important way of protecting your information. This fun holiday-themed tool will help you come up with unique passphrases based on a series of questions.

You can also test your own knowledge of cyber safety with the holiday crossword puzzle.

Another layer of protection is a personal cyber insurance policy. HUB SmartCoverage, for example, offers an Identity Theft policy that provides $20,000 in coverage for only $30 a year. Such protection can prove invaluable to help restore your identity should you ever become a victim. You can get a quote here.

Finally, if you believe you are a victim of a scam or identity theft you should report it immediately to the police. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre also offers victims valuable tips on what to do next.

Bottom line? When it comes to your online holiday shopping, slow down and be safe.

With files from Insurance Business Canada

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