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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

How to Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

Are you ready for the holiday shopping season? It seems every year people spend more and more money during Black Friday and Cyber Monday for holiday gifts and donate to charities on Giving Tuesday. Unfortunately, cybercriminals know this and will do their best to get access to your credit card swipes, your identity, and online transactions. With the large amount of cybercrime and data breaches that have taken place this year, it’s more important than ever to make sure you are being vigilant and taking steps to protect yourself. Here are a few tips to keep you safe as you donate to your favorite charities and buy gifts for your friends and loved ones:

How to Protect Yourself on Black Friday. A lot of the breaches that occur on Black Friday occur when you're shopping at brick-and-mortar stores from point-of-sale (PoS) systems. These breaches can occur when a criminal gets access to the PoS system by installing malware designed to collect your information. Hackers can also install malware in online shopping carts that send your banking information directly to them. This can be avoided if you use secured payment methods such as using cash when you're making in-store purchases. If you're like me and hate carrying around cash, or you prefer shopping online for Black Friday, regular and pre-paid credit cards are always the best option. Credit card companies offer better protection against fraud. Most banks do so as well, but if your debit card is compromised, it will take longer to get access to those stolen funds.

How to Protect Yourself on Cyber Monday. When shopping online and searching the web for the hottest deals, your biggest threats are breached electronic shopping carts and compromised websites from online merchants. Make sure the websites you're visiting are secure with a URL that begins with "https" rather than "http. The added "s" means that the website is secure from breaches and your transactions will be safe from cybercriminals. Most browsers also include a padlock icon in front of the web address to show the site has a trusted security certificate. Also, your web browser will notify you if it appears that a website is not secure or dangerous. If you get this message, do not proceed. If you get messages about the latest deals from a retailer via email and text, go directly to the merchant's website to verify that the deal is real and not a scam. To keep your personal information safe, set up an anonymous email account only to be used for shopping online. If you get emails or texts that claim there is a problem with your package, visit the merchant's website or call them to verify if there is an issue.

How to Protect Yourself on Giving Tuesday. Cybercriminals are aware that many charities collect payments online. With so many different organizations asking for money, it's hard to know which are legit and which ones are fake. You need to be wary of crowdfunded websites such as GoFundMo as many of the people who ask for donations from these sites are looking to scam people. Before donating to a charitable cause, check out Charity Navigator ( which will help you get information on over 8,000 charities. In most instances, it's best to donate directly from the charity's website rather than relying on emails, phone calls, and text messages that are sent to you.

Some other tips to remember are:

1. Go to the source. 99% of cybercrime requires user interaction. Avoid clicking on links in email, social media, and texts. Some links will take Don’t click on ads on social media or even in texts or emails.

2. Use strong passwords. Passwords are the strongest thing for keeping your online accounts safe. Consider using passphrases for all of your online accounts. Passphrases like "stinkychicken437!" or "PurpleStrongOtter#*!" are easier for you to remember. Also, don't use the same passwords for all your online accounts. Password managers like LastPass and the ones in your favorite browser can help you remember all of those different passwords.

3. Use retailer and charity apps. If your favorite online retailer or charity has an app, download it and use it to ensure all of your transactions are safe and secure.

I'm not trying to be a Grinch when it comes to your holiday shopping plans. I just want to make sure all of you enjoy this season of light and remind you to be vigilant and aware of the assortment of ways criminals will try to take advantage of your trust and kindness

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