Most of us associate the end of the year as a time of thanks and giving. But it’s also a time of taking! Scammers and fraudsters love getting into the holiday spirit. The biggest difference for them, of course, is they don’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice. So, as you celebrate the season, when you’re out there buying gifts, or volunteering, or whatever you do to enjoy or survive the holidays, stay alert both online and in real life!

With that sentiment in mind, let’s break down how to stay secure while doing your holiday shopping.

Security IRL

“Only available in stores” is a marketing tactic used by retailers to lure shoppers away from their screens. And while you might not “get hacked” when shopping in real life, there are still security risks! This is particularly true on Black Friday when hundreds of thousands of people flock to stores to take advantage of deals.

Situational Awareness is Your Best Friend

Don’t get lost in your phone or tablet. Don’t ask other people to watch your stuff. Know where the exits are. If you are with a group of people, designate rendezvous points in the likely event that you get separated. Keep in mind that wireless and cellular networks can get jammed in crowded environments, and can’t be counted on. Have a backup plan!

Don’t Use the ATMs

If you need to get cash, go directly to a bank location, or find an ATM that is in a secure area inside of a legit business. Why? Card skimmers:

If you do you use an ATM, be sure to inspect it carefully, and if anything seems off, don’t insert your card.

Avoid Public WiFi

We’ve spilled a lot of ink in this space about the dangers of public WiFi. The abridged version is that cybercriminals use public networks to intercept data and steal sensitive information. You can block their efforts by using a VPN, or virtual private network, which is software that encrypts your traffic and provides a secure connection. But it’s still best to avoid accessing personal information when connected to public WiFi.

And since we’re in the spirit, learn more about VPNs by watching this video!

Security on the Interwebs

No crowds. No lines. No traffic or busy parking lots. Just you, your computer, and a bunch of cybercriminals. The convenience of shopping on the internet obviously comes with risks. But savvy shoppers know how to identify threats and how to avoid them.

Always Verify the Website

Scammers create bogus sites with the hopes of stealing information or selling products that are inferior knockoffs. You can easily avoid falling for this by ensuring that the URL of the website is legit, and that your connection is secure. Never enter sensitive information onto an online form unless you see both “https” and a green padlock.

It Really is Too Good to be True

We hate to break it to you, but if an 80-inch TV is being sold for the price of an eight-inch tablet, you’re getting scammed. And these “too good to be true” deals won’t always be that obvious. A couple years ago, we saw a scam targeting the release of the iPhone X. A savvy shopper knows how to spot these. As a general rule, don’t click on suspicious links, never give out personal information unless you’ve verified the source, and use common sense.

Keep an Eye on Your Accounts

Regardless of where you do your shopping, routinely log in to your bank accounts to ensure that there are no unauthorized or additional charges. Most credit card companies will reimburse any fraudulent activity, but you don’t want to wait until the new year to check. Keep your receipts handy and keep an eye on your financials!

As you can see, most of this is common sense security—a non-technical approach that is easy for everyone. And even though the theme is focused on holiday shopping, the big picture (security-savvy individuals) should be your focus year-round!

Justin Bonnema

Lead Writer at SAC
Justin left the music business to focus on his true passion: writing. A talented writer and detailed researcher, he’s involved in every department here at SAC to make sure all content is fresh and up-to-date. In his spare time, Justin writes about fantasy football for and practices mixology (he makes a mean margarita).