Watch Out for Gift-Wrapped Cyber Attacks During the Holiday Season


Online shoppers clicked their way to record breaking sales of $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday, making it the biggest online shopping day in history, according to comScore. But the bad news is cybercriminals are just getting started with their holiday shopping – with your money.

Half of American consumers are shopping online to beat the crowds and grab the best bargains. But unsuspecting shoppers aren’t prepared for the high volume of cyber attacks being launched against their computers and mobile devices.

“During the holiday season, consumers find it much more convenient to keep credit card information stored online as they make such a high volume of purchases,” according to ThreatMatrix, a provider of integrated cybercrime prevention solutions. “And that makes online account takeovers more profitable and therefore more attractive to hackers.” It’s especially risky behavior when shoppers use the same email address and password for more than one website.

Online Shopping: The Gift That Keeps on Giving to Hackers

Internet security providers are warning consumers about a spike in cybercrime during the holiday season, fueled by 20 million shoppers using mobile devices to buy gifts.

Here’s what you can do to steer clear of the cyber grinches when you shop online:

  • Make sure your security software is up to date and your passwords are long, strong and different for each site.
  • Shop only on secure sites – where the web address begins with https rather than http. Look for the padlock icon.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card for online shopping. If you become a victim of fraud, a debit card will give hackers access to your entire checking and/or savings account.
  • Don’t download smartphone apps unless they’re from trusted sources like the Apple App Store. Bogus phone apps downloaded on mobile devices can install keystroke logging malware that will steal your sensitive information.
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails advertising bargains, no matter how terrific they sound.
  • Avoid opening holiday greeting cards from people and companies you don’t recognize. They could contain malware.
  • Stay alert for suspicious links in your Facebook and Twitter accounts which could download spyware on your device.
  • Watch out for bogus search engine results that could lead you to malware infected websites which grab your sensitive information.
  • Don’t fall for text messages offering fabulous deals. If they sound too good to be true, they probably are.
  • Become an anonymous shopper. If you’re using a laptop or other mobile device to find the best holiday deals, never connect to unsecure Wifi hotspots without using a virtual private network like PRIVATE WiFi™. VPNs ensure that your searches are anonymous by encrypting the data traveling to and from your mobile devices. That gives you the gift of security every time you go online.

Cybercriminals Shop Online for Your Confidential Information

Remember, cybercriminals like to shop, too, all year round. They even have their own online shopping websites where they buy and sell credit and debit card information stolen from computers and mobile devices.

They can select the stolen card details from a drop down list for the bank and the country of their choice and proceed to checkout, the same way consumers do on legitimate sites.

In a government sting operation called Operation Card Shop, undercover investigators created an online bazaar to catch buyers and sellers of stolen credit and debit card information.

This year, federal authorities arrested 24 people in the U.S. and a dozen other countries in Operation Card Shop, calling it the largest undercover operation in history targeting the global online trade in stolen credit card numbers. Credit card providers were notified about the compromised credit and debit card information of more than 400,000 unsuspecting victims.

One of those stolen credit cards could have been yours. Think about that the next time you shop online.

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