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Best Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

How can you stay secure online (and offline) as you shop this holiday season? Whether at home or work, whether braving the mall crowds on Black Friday or surfing the Net on Cyber Monday, what should you watch out for? Here’s a roundup of some of the best advice I’ve seen from credible sources.

Credit: Shutterstock/Seksan 99
It’s that time of year again. Holiday shoppers get ready, set ... SURF!

The global masses are already scouring the Internet for end-of-the-year deals and discounts, and opportunities for savings now begin with pre-Thanksgiving Day sales that lead into Black Friday and Cyber Monday and even the entire month of December.

Because the Thanksgiving holiday falls on Nov. 23, this is one of the longest Christmas shopping seasons in recent years, and the strong economy is leading prognosticators to predict that more presents will be under the tree.

More surprising, many experts (like Deloitte Consulting) are predicting more online sales than in-store sales this holiday season. The reasons that many consumers prefer online shopping to in-store experiences vary, but here are a few items to consider from the Deloitte article:

  • Ease of searching
  • High-quality/trusted products
  • Variety of products/styles available
  • Availability of hard-to-find/unique products
  • Variety of delivery options
However, a third of shoppers note that it’s important for retailers to have both online and physical shopping options, according to Deloitte.

So assuming that you will do at least some shopping online, here’s what you need to know. I am offering top tips from a variety of sources, and wrapping up this piece with my —  “top tip” from the dozens of sources that I examined. 

Finding Deals from Marie Claire

To start, check out this informative article on Online Christmas Shopping Hacks

The article ends with this advice below. (Honey is a browser plug-in that tells you if you are getting the best price, read the article for more details.)

To summarize, if you want your money to stretch a little further this Christmas (and have some left over to treat yourself):

  1. Get Honey.
  2. Put Nov. 22 in your diary.
  3. Don’t wait until December to start Christmas shopping. November is the key month for discounts.
  4. And finally, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the top day for discounts, while Sundays are best avoided.
Really Good Online Fraud Awareness Article to Read

Here are David Papp’s 12 quick fraud awareness tips to remember when online shopping:

  1. The best way to get your attention is with a “stunning” price, so be wary of things that are too good to be true
  2. The best scams don’t look like scams
  3. Usually the scammers don’t get reviews
  4. Safe payment systems take hard work, and a new website might not have put in the effort
  5. Look for a “real” owner
  6. Watch out for making purchases over public or open Wi-Fi
  7. SSL protects your connection, but doesn’t protect you from who you connect to
  8. Review your online account settings
  9. Keep personal information personal
  10. Develop good password habits; change them often and use unique ones that are hard to guess
  11. Ensure the website address makes sense
  12. Consider a low-limit credit card Offers This Advice:

Firstly, stick to brands and businesses that you know well, and have a good reputation. ...

Shop only on secure websites. “Look for https: rather than http: at the front of the URL.

Over and above secure sites, Brown advises shoppers to be vigilant in terms of the connection they are shopping over. “Public Wi-Fi is a notorious means for cyber-criminals to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks.

Good idea to use secure payment services such as PayPal, and if this isn’t an option, credit cards rather than debit cards to purchase goods online.

In addition, he says to be aware of the old maxim, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

We Live Security Online Tips:

  • Stick with trusted brands that have a strong reputation
  • Use credit cards and secure payment services instead of debit cards
  • Look out for https URL and the padlock symbol
  • Be wary of dodgy offers that are too good to be true
  • Opt for your mobile phone network over public Wi-Fi
Advice for Small Businesses to Protect Your Data

  1. If you collect it, protect it. Follow reasonable security measures to ensure that customers’ and employees’ personal information is protected from inappropriate and unauthorized access.
  2. Have a strong privacy policy. ...
  3. Know what you are protecting. Be aware of all the personal information you have, where you are storing it, how you are using it and who has access to it. Understand the kind of assets you have and why a hacker might pursue them. “You cannot protect what you don’t know about,”  said Bindu Sundaresan, a senior security professional at AT&T.
  4. Don’t underestimate the threat. In one survey conducted by the Alliance, 85 percent of small business owners believe larger enterprises are more targeted than they are. In reality, there have been cases where small businesses have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to cybercriminals.
  5. Don’t collect what you don’t need. ...
  6. Keep a clean machine. ...
  7. Use multiple layers of security. ...
  8. Scan all new devices. Be sure to scan all USB and other devices before they are attached to your network.
  9. Educate employees. ...
  10. Protect against mobile device risks. Smartphones, tablets and laptops can add to employee flexibility and productivity, but they can also be repositories of sensitive information, which, if lost, can harm your customers and your business. ...
Symantec Holiday Shopping Tips Video

National Cybersecurity Alliance’s Holiday Online Shopping Tips  

KEEP CLEAN MACHINES: Before searching for that perfect gift, be sure that all Web-connected devices — including PCs, smartphones and tablets — are free from malware and infections by running only the most current versions of software and apps.

LOCK DOWN YOUR LOGIN: One of the most critical things you can do in preparation for the online shopping season is to fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device. …

CONDUCT RESEARCH: When using a new website for your holiday purchases, read reviews and see if other customers have had positive or negative experiences with the site.

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT: Links in emails, social media posts and text messages are often how cybercriminals try to steal your information or infect your devices.

MONEY. VALUE IT. PROTECT IT.: When making a purchase online, be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure you think it is necessary for the vendor to request that information. Remember that you only need to fill out required fields at checkout.


HOTSPOTSSECURE YOUR DEVICES: Use strong passwords or touch ID features to lock your devices. These security measures can help protect your information if your devices are lost or stolen and keep prying eyes out.

THINK BEFORE YOU APP: Information about you, such as the games you like to play, your contacts list, where you shop and your location, has value — just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps.

NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU DON’T: Some stores and other locations look for devices with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on to track your movements while you are within range. Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when they’re not in use.

RESOURCES U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (DHS): DHS encourages shoppers to take special precautions when shopping and banking online. Check out the Mobile Banking and Payments tip card and other resources at

Final Resources and Top Tip

This safe holiday shopping topic is certainly not new. I don’t blog on this safe holiday shopping topic every year, but here are a few of my past blogs, and most tips still apply.

2016: Holiday Season Shopping Tips for Online (And Offline) Safety

2013: Black Friday and Cyber Monday: The Good, Bad and Ugly — with Tips to Help Online

2011: Cyber Monday: Are You Shopping from Work?

2010: Cyber Monday and Redefining Acceptable Use — Again

I do find it very interesting how the “acceptable use” practices at work have evolved in the public and private sectors as far as holiday shopping — especially on Cyber Monday. Things were certainly different back in 2010 when I was chief technology officer (CTO) for the state of Michigan.

Question to ponder: What does this trend tell us about the future of online life?

Finally, I offer my top holiday shopping advice, and it doesn’t involve your PC or smartphone.

Whatever you buy, and wherever you buy it, closely examine those credit card statements. Did you make that charge? If not, you can usually get your money back if you act promptly.

Happy Thanksgiving! And Black Friday and Cyber Monday too.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.