Holiday Shopping Online? Here’s How to Protect Against Cybercrime
It’s that time of year again when we try to find the perfect gifts for our friends and loved ones. We’ll probably be doing most of our holiday shopping online this year to avoid crowded stores. In addition to taking care of your physical health and safety, it is important to be careful with your personal information so that you do not become a victim of cybercrime. Cyber criminals are working overtime during the holiday season when consumers are making more purchases and providing their personal information more frequently. Your information can be stolen from your computer or from the company that you are buying goods from through viruses, malware, and ransomware.
Be street smart on the web and use the tools at your disposal to protect yourself from cybercrime. Here are a few tips to help you shop online safely.
USE YOUR CREDIT CARD
Using your credit card instead of your debit card helps protect the funds in your checking account. If your debit card information is compromised, your hard-earned cash can be stolen right out of your bank account. If your credit card information is used fraudulently, you will be able to see it on your credit card statement, report it to your credit card company, and avoid paying the unauthorized charges.
Using your credit card, reading your credit card statement carefully, and paying your credit card bill on time will require extra time and attention. Cyber criminals are counting on holiday shoppers being overwhelmed, short on time, and buying gifts at the last minute. Please give yourself extra time to shop and manage your accounts responsibly to make sure all the charges are legitimate.
As a bonus, using your credit card has other advantages like earning rewards and getting insurance on the items you buy—provided you pay your credit card bill in full and on time every month, and don’t spend more money than you have.
UPDATE YOUR ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE
No matter what type of device you use, you should have a reputable antivirus program installed. This is true even if you have an Apple computer. As they have grown in popularity, more viruses than ever are aimed at infecting Apple computers. While iPhone viruses are less common, Android users should have an antivirus app installed. You can find a good comparison of free and low-cost antivirus programs at Consumer Reports.
Make sure that you download your antivirus program from a reputable website. Don’t fall for ads and banners promising free antivirus software. Along with email attachments and false websites, cyber criminals often use these pop-ups to disguise viruses that give them access to your computer and your personal information. Before downloading, make sure you’re at the legitimate website of the antivirus company by looking at the website URL in the address bar at the top of your browser.
PROTECT MORE THAN YOUR MONEY.
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UPDATE YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM AND OTHER PROGRAMS
It is also important to keep your computer’s operating system up to date to avoid falling victim to computer viruses. Windows computers should be downloading Windows Updates from Microsoft regularly. Apple computers can also check for updates under system preferences. You should check monthly to see if your computer’s operating system is current.
Microsoft is no longer offering updates for the Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7 last January, but millions of Americans still use the 11-year-old operating system on their personal computers. Continuing to use Windows 7 is risky because it is more susceptible to viruses than newer Windows operating systems that are still supported by Microsoft. If you are still using Windows 7, the best course of action is to replace your Windows 7 computer with a computer that has Windows 10. This can be cost prohibitive for a lot of us right now.
If you need to stick with Windows 7, you should not only have antivirus software installed, but also use a modern and secure web browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge instead of Internet Explorer, the default browser that comes with Windows 7. No matter which browser you choose, be sure to have the pop-up blocker turned on. If you are using Windows 7, you should plan on upgrading to Windows 10 this year.
It's important to keep the other programs that are running on your computer up to date as well. Other programs on your computer that may need to be updated include PDF viewers, music streaming programs, video conferencing programs, and Java, to name a few. Most programs have an option to look for updates under the ‘Help’ or ‘About’ menus. One way to make it easier to keep your programs up to date is to remove any programs that you don’t use. An old program that you never use can still become infected with a virus that lets cyber criminals steal your information.
You may be thinking, “That’s a lot of upgrading. I need to upgrade my operating system, my antivirus, and other programs on my computer. Who has time for that?”
Remember, cyber criminals are counting on us to take the path of least resistance and not have the latest protections in place. While it may seem time-consuming, it won’t take you much time at all once you get into the habit of regularly updating your computer. In the end, it will save you a lot of time and stress that you may experience if you become the victim of cybercrime. Let’s do everything we can to keep cyber criminals from having a successful holiday season this year.
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.