There's one day of the year that savvy holiday shoppers look forward to: Cyber Monday. The day is a boon for online deal hunters, but also for scammers.
That's partly because the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, starting with Black Friday, is one of the busiest times within the most hectic shopping season of the year. In 2020, 186.4 million consumers shopped that holiday weekend, according to data from the National Retail Federation. And a growing share of that shopping is happening online.
Online shoppers may get distracted — by holiday shopping lists, gatherings, and the bustle of the season. And cybercriminals know it's easier to trick someone who's got their mind on other things.
And you can add another Cyber Monday 2021 shopping risk: The shortage of some hot items due to supply and shipping bottlenecks around the globe. It’s likely scammers will try to target shoppers looking for those hard-to-find gifts. The risk? You might click to buy before checking to see if the “deal” is legitimate.
But you may be able to avoid having your holiday fun spoiled by an identity thief or financial fraudster if you take a few simple steps to help you shop safely online.
Online shopping tips for Cyber Monday 2021
As you make your online purchases, stay vigilant by following these simple safety tips.
1. Do your holiday shopping with reputable retailers.
Once you've made your holiday shopping list and checked to see who's been naughty or nice, decide where to shop. Stick with retailers you know and trust. Bookmark their sites to go there directly rather than clicking on offers in ads, emails, or text messages. That will keep you safe from fraudsters who create realistic looking fake stores designed to look just like the sites of trusted retailers. Shopping only with reliable retailers also may help you avoid other hassles, such as shipping delays and knockoff or poor-quality products.
2. Only shop on secure sites on Cyber Monday.
If you're sticking with well-known retailers, their sites should be secure. But if you're shopping at smaller or independent shops, look for a little lock icon in the top left corner of your browser bar when you're on the site. A secure site's URL should start with HTTPS and not HTTP. You might have to click on the URL to see the HTTPS. Secure sites use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption to keep data in transit hidden from hackers. If the site is secure, it's OK to enter your payment information and order your items.
3. Learn to spot holiday shopping scams.
Just like little white lights and pumpkin spice, shopping scams are just about everywhere if you know how to spot them. Take a minute to brush up on common Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday shopping scams so you can avoid falling for one. Common scams include advertising amazing "deals" and setting up fake online stores to collect credit card numbers and other personal info from unsuspecting shoppers. Stay away from offers and sales that seem too good to be true.
4. Safeguard store accounts with strong passwords.
Did you create an account, instead of checking out as a guest, to make it easier to shop with a favorite retailer? Make sure to protect that account with a strong password so a hacker can't get into your account, steal your information, or make a purchase with your card. Keep in mind, it's also a good idea to decline to save your card information on a retailer's site to keep yourself even safer. A password manager can generate secure passwords, store them, and autofill them when you want to shop.
5. Don't shop on public Wi-Fi.
It may sound nice to do your holiday shopping at a local coffee shop, sipping a warm drink while "Let It Snow" plays in the background. But shopping online from your laptop, tablet, or phone while connected to public Wi-Fi can open the door to hackers. Public Wi-Fi connections are often unencrypted and unsecured, leaving you vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack that could allow a scammer to grab your name, address, credit card number, and other personal information. If you must shop on public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN), which creates a “tunnel” that allows you to transmit your encrypted data securely.
6. Check for fraud after your holiday shopping.
Just as Santa's always watching, you should be too. During the holiday season, take a few minutes to keep an eye on your bank and credit accounts. Glance over the transactions, make sure the amounts are correct and look for fraud. If you spot an unauthorized transaction, call your bank or card issuer right away. Federal law offers plenty of protections for fraudulent transactions. But in order to benefit, you need to see and report the fraud in a timely manner.
Follow these tips for Cyber Monday 2021 and beyond, and your holiday season should be merry, bright, and free from scammers who are waiting to take advantage of your holiday spirit.