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‘Always check the URL’ – Four of the biggest digital threats when shopping online and how to protect yourself this Black Friday

You might find great deals on Black Friday, but you might  stumble upon great threats to your data. Here’s how to shop safely

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday see deals crop up online, but how do you protect yourself when shopping? Photo: Paul Felberbauer

Black Friday and Cyber Monday see deals crop up online, but how do you protect yourself when shopping? Photo: Paul Felberbauer

Brendan Marr is a strategic adviser, and author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World

Brendan Marr is a strategic adviser, and author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday see deals crop up online, but how do you protect yourself when shopping? Photo: Paul Felberbauer

Once again, those highlights of the consumer year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – are almost upon us.

But a surge in online shopping unfortunately also means a surge in scams, phishing attacks and other threats of the digital age. So, here are some tips for safer shopping as we approach the busiest day of the year for online commerce:

1. Adopt Best Password Practices

Although it seems obvious, using the same passwords again and again across multiple sites, or using easily found information such as your date of birth or pet’s name, is a common online mistake.

One of the simplest steps anyone can take to rectify this is to use a password manager, which makes it simple to create unique, randomized passwords for each individual account you set up. It also helps protect you from “keylogger” attacks – software which reads your keyboard input and forwards it on to thieves or hackers – by letting you automatically fill in online forms without typing out credit card numbers and sensitive information every time you make an online purchase.

2. Be Wary of Phishing

Unfortunately, phishing is now so common and sophisticated that it can be difficult to spot a fake message when it lands in your inbox.

Phishing scams prey on our panic responses, so be suspicious of emails, especially if they come from unknown sources or odd-looking email addresses, which are pressuring you to do something, such as urgently reset an account or change your password. Be cautious of clicking on any links or attachments sent to you.

If you’re not sure whether a request is genuine, contact the organization or individual directly via their official channels.

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Brendan Marr is a strategic adviser, and author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World

Brendan Marr is a strategic adviser, and author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World

Brendan Marr is a strategic adviser, and author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World

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3. Always Check the URL Bar

An increasingly common online fraud involves setting up fake web pages that look similar to real, trusted brands but are in fact controlled by thieves who will redirect any money spent on their sites straight into their bank accounts.

Particularly if you’ve received a website address via email, it’s essential to pay close attention to several elements. Ensure that the address in the URL bar matches the business that you think you are dealing with. Preferably, search for the business by name and ensure the URL you are clicking on matches the brand’s website that appears on search engines. Look out for slight misspellings or character substitutions – make sure, for example, you’re on tesco.com and not tesc0.com.

Just as importantly, check for the padlock icon next to the URL in the URL bar. This lets you know that you are on a secure site that uses an encrypted connection, meaning no one can intercept or eavesdrop on the data flowing between your device and that site. If it isn’t there, then there’s no telling who might be monitoring your traffic hoping to get their hands on your passwords, card details or other sensitive information. Clicking on the padlock should tell you two things – that the connection is secure and that the site’s certificate is valid. Never enter any valuable or personal information into sites where this isn’t the case.

4. Manage your Payment Methods

Using a mobile payment provider helps keep your details secure by putting an extra virtual layer between your money and businesses that you deal with.

Even if thieves manage to breach an online retailer’s security and get their customers’ payment details, they will only get the virtual card number provided by the mobile payment service. They would then have to get through Google or Apple’s (for example) security measures to get at your actual details – a far tougher challenge for your average cyber crook.

Bernard Marr is the author of Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World (Wiley, out now).


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