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Thinking of getting a jump on that holiday shopping? If you haven’t yet taken steps to protect your computer from online scammers, listen up: November is prime time for holiday shopping fraud.
Unfortunately, where e-commerce goes, e-criminals follow. Even before the leaves started falling, the Federal Trade Commission had identified online shopping scams as the number one category of COVID-19 related complaints. How might these digital-age grinches turn your online holiday shopping from a joyous pastime to a ho-ho-horror show? Let us count the ways.
1. Sham order confirmations that could lead to identity theft
“We’ve received your order” is typically a welcome message to find in one’s inbox. Sometimes, though, the sender is not someone you’ve actually done business with, but a scammer looking to give you the business.
Clicking on the fake link will lead to a request for personal/financial information that can facilitate identity theft or fraudulent purchases in your name. “We’re seeing more of these type of bogus messages given the time of year and the climate we’re living in right now,” Tom Spring, editor-in-chief of the tech blog Threatpost tells Yahoo Life.
“These order confirmations can come from any number of different mainstream companies and then criminals will take advantage of the most well-known brands—Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, you name it.”
If it seems suspicious, go the retailer’s official site, log into your account and verify that there hasn’t been any unexpected activity. Before that, though, invest in some cybersecurity, like Malwarebytes. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to safeguard your computer from phishing scams like this one.
2. Bogus shipping notices: “Your package is running late”
Another popular scam: receiving what seems to be a FedEx, UPS, or Postal Service email notifying you that your package is running late. The email includes a link to track the package…but it’s a scam. One fateful click and you’ve wound up with a virus or worse on your hard drive.
Scammers love this one because the pandemic crush has put the major retailers and carriers in “crisis mode,” as Spring puts it, and trained people to expect shipping delays. “This is a perfect time to do it, because most people are either anticipating the packages they sent, or anything that might be sent to them—a surprise gift from Aunt Betty–might be delayed.”
When possible, you might want to avoid shipping altogether and arrange for curbside pickup from retailers. And when you do ship, go straight to the horse’s mouth (i.e., the shipper’s official site) for tracking info. Either way, you’ll want to install protection from malware invasions that could come from clicking on that bogus link, like Malwarebytes.
3. Cloned web sites and fake coupon links
Another classic way to go on a phishing expedition: scammers send an email or text offering a coupon link that brings you to a mock retail website whose URL is almost exactly the same as one you have used.
But if you click on that link, it’s too late, and your username/password and/or credit card info could be compromised. One useful precaution, says Spring, is to take a close look at any links you receive and make sure they include “https” in their URL. Those five letters he says, represent, “an encryption technology that ensures that the information that you send from your device to the web server cannot be intercepted by a bad guy.”
Also check for any subtle, easily overlooked misspellings—i.e, make sure that link you’re about to click on says Walmart.com, not Wallmart.com.
4. Intercepted Data: make sure your Wi-Fi is secure
While fewer of us are hanging out at local cafes and online shopping via public Wi-Fi networks, it’s not uncommon for cyber thieves to breach and lift data from your home network as well.
Our advice is simple: Get yourself a VPN! A “virtual private network” scrambles the digital traffic heading to and from your computer or cellphone. As a result, says Spring, “a VPN will basically put your data into a lockbox so the bad guys can’t get at it.”
5. Sob stories on social media: don’t donate unless you know the person
A particularly rampant scam around the holidays are bogus pleas for money—in the form of phony fundraising organizations or sad stories from people on GoFundMe who are asking for your money.
“The emotions that the bad guys take advantage of are: fear, hate and sympathy,” says Spring. “Unfortunately, as compassionate, good human beings, we respond to sympathetic pleas.” Spring’s advice: don’t donate to GoFundMe pages from strangers and verify that any fundraising links lead to bonafide charities.
But Spring would like to suggest that we check our emotional responses, too. “Just like you wouldn’t want to send an angry email out or do something impulsive in a bad way, you don’t want to do something impulsive in a good way without some sober reflection on who you’re doing business with.”
The takeaway? The time to get protected is now. Malwarebytes Premium offers full spectrum defense for up to three devices (Mac, PC, Android or iOs), preventing viruses, malicious websites, ransomware, and malware. Malwarebytes (affiliated with Yahoo Life’s parent company, Verizon) makes threats like bots, worms, rogues, trojans, and rootkits a thing of the past. Try it free for 30 days and stay safe for just $4.99 per month afterward. In this perilous holiday season, make the most important gift this year be the one you give yourself.
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