AgriLife Information Technology

Shopping Safely this Holiday Season

The holiday season is always lucrative for hackers, scammers, and online thieves. While millions will be scouring the internet for the best in-stock gifts and deals, attackers will be looking to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers by finding weaknesses in their devices, networks, or attempting to extract information through fake websites or charities. 

The best defense against these threats is awareness.

Below are a few simple steps we all can take to be more secure…

Update your Devices (what you use to place orders)

  • Ensure that the device you use to make purchases from is updated with all the latest security updates and patches
  • Enable automatic software updates on devices where possible
  • Don’t forget about other devices you control on your network
    • Smart devices should be checked for updates too, since attackers could turn those into spies on your network

Location, Location, Location (where you are when you are shopping)

  • If possible, try to avoid public or open Wi-Fi networks when making purchases (such as at coffee shops etc.)
    • You don’t always know who you are sharing these networks with
  • Trusted networks are the safest option when making purchases

The Vendor (who you are interacting with)

  • Before providing any financial or personal info, ensure the vendor is established and reputable
  • How did you get to their website?
    • Many retailers send out emails with deals during the holidays, but so do attackers
    • Before clicking any links, double-check the sender, attackers can set up convincing websites
    • Or even better yet, type the website address into the web browser
  • Never provide financial or password information in response to unsolicited emails
  • If you have accounts on vendor sites, ensure they have strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication (MFA) where possible
  • Ensure the vendor website is encrypted.
    • The web browser address bar will have a URL that begins with “https:” instead of “http:” and a padlock icon
    • If the padlock is closed, the information is encrypted
  • If it is a legitimate website that you do not purchase from frequently, you can opt not to save your payment information so that your credit card is not stored
    • This will protect you in case the vendor suffers a data breach

The Purchase & Afterwards

  • Credit cards offer more purchase protection than debit cards
    • Debit cards draw the funds directly from your account which may leave you with insufficient funds to complete other important payments
  • Monitor your transactions regularly throughout the holiday season, or setup alerts with your bank if possible
    • Catching fraudulent transactions quickly allows you to dispute them and reverse the charges
  • Be wary of fraudulent emails or calls claiming to be from someone at your bank
    • Check your accounts yourself first, and then contact your bank on a publicly known contact number (such as the one on the back of your card)

And remember, if that unbelievable deal on that sketchy website seems too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for those unheard-of vendors that claim to have that one sought-after item that is out of stock everywhere else. No one wants to have to spend time dealing with fraudulent charges when they could be enjoying the holidays.

From all of us at AgriLife Information Technology, Happy Holidays!