It is that time of the year again. Even though some online retailers have been running promotional deals for a week or more now, the semi-official date for this year's Black Friday falls on November 26, just a few days from now. One important question you need to ask before you go on a mini shopping spree from the comfort of your home is "Am I ready to shop safely?"
You should be asking yourself this because Black Friday is the favorite time of year for credit card skimmers, fraudsters, scammers, and other assorted types of cybercriminals who are looking to bake a quick buck, stolen off people just like you.
While data breaches and leaks are a factor that is out of the hands of regular online shoppers, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you stay as safe as possible during Black Friday. In the past we've reported years where malware infections spiked over 100% during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We expect this year to be no different, unfortunately.
Only use reliable, trustworthy websites
A good first rule of thumb is simply to only use websites that you know and trust. You may encounter banner ads and pop-ups that offer what seems like incredible deals, but you might find they redirect to online shops you never heard of, which makes transactions on them potentially risky.
Larger, established websites and brands also have a higher level of security installed on their part, which also helps you shop with confidence when using them.
Be sure that the shopping websites that you visit start with "https" instead of just "http," which will ensure that the site utilizes a SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection or an encrypted connection to encrypt sensitive transmitted data. You may also look for a padlock icon before the website's URL that indicates the site is secured with a digital certificate.
Be wary of phishing emails and spoofed brands
Even if you do land on what very much looks like an Amazon page, you may really be on a spoofed malicious page, designed by hackers to look like the real thing. Links to similar pages are usually distributed through carefully constructed phishing emails that may end up in your inbox, offering amazing deals to lure you into clicking, and leading to malicious web pages, controlled by hackers, designed to mimic the official look and branding of an Amazon page.
It is advisable to never click links in promotional emails you receive around Black Friday as a good portion of those will be phishing and scam attempts.
Always double-check the page URL in your browser's address bar, to avoid entering your credit card information on such a spoofed page, as this will lead to your card data being siphoned in the hands of hackers.
Use multi-factor authentication on as many payment methods and services you use
Before you go shopping for those sweet items you have your eye on, first, make sure you have enabled multi-factor authentication on all payment methods and online accounts and services you use.
Multi-factor authentication is probably the best defense you have against any sort of intrusion into your personal accounts and finances and should be immediately enabled on any service you use that offers it.
Stay off public Wi-Fi when shopping online
While every major online retailer should already be using SSL/TLS and HTTPS for communication encryption between your device and the website, it doesn't hurt to add this extra precaution, at least for a few days around Black Friday. Public networks allow man-in-the-middle attacks that rely on intercepting connections on a public Wi-Fi network and then doing all sorts of nasty things with the compromised device.
Keep your anti-malware software up to date
Even in the age of automated updates, it doesn't hurt to manually check for updates to your favorite mobile or desktop security suite of choice. Hackers are busy bees and it's not uncommon for new types of malware to crop up around periods of high online activity like Black Friday, so making sure your protection is also on the level is worth it.
If you stick to those few basic guidelines, you should have a much safer and less stressful time doing your online shopping, not just this Black Friday but as a whole.
Bonus Tip: Never pay for services or products through bank transfer and be leery of paying for items through mobile cash applications. It is a common practice for fraudsters to have their victims pay for items through bank transfers or cash app programs so they can quickly get their money and limit the chance of the charges being reversed or tracked.