Tips for Staying Cyber Smart this Holiday Season

Cyber Monday seems to now regularly eclipse Black Friday. We are doing more and more of our shopping online. Amazon and other companies make it so easy to do a “one click” purchase, with all of your credit card and other info saved. 

Yes, holiday shopping online can be convenient and stress free and a great way to send gifts to loved ones who are not close by.  Unfortunately, though, the technology that makes our shopping lives easier also makes us more vulnerable to fraudsters and attackers.  So, we put together seven tips that you should keep in mind whenever you’re online, on the phone or on a mobile device.

1. Free WiFi Isn’t Always Free

While the cost of hotel or airport WiFi may make you cringe, it’s easy for a scammer to set up a “free” WiFi network and then watch every packet of information you send across it.  It could be a banal email, or it could be your banking information.  Never do anything with private information on a public WiFi network, and try to stick to networks you know and trust.

2.  Use a Password/PIN to Protect Your Devices

Apple, Google, Samsung, and other manufacturers have begun putting fingerprint sensors on their devices as a security measure to ensure they stay safe from prying eyes.  A good rule of thumb is to have some sort of password, PIN or other protective measure on every device you own that could be lost or stolen.

3. Keep Your Information Safe

Your banks, your credit card companies and your financial advisors are never – NEVER! – going to ask you for your password or personal information via email.  If you get an email requesting your information from a company, do not respond and contact that company independently.  Do not click the link or call the number provided in the email – contact them at their official number and confirm whether or not they actually need the info requested in the email.

4.  Keep Your Device Up to Date 

It’s always a good idea to keep your device as up-to-date as possible with software updates.  Note, even if your phone is older and can’t handle newer big updates – like operating system overhauls – it may still receive security updates from the manufacturers.
5. Stick to Stock

There are lots of articles out there on why you might want to “root”, “jailbreak” or “crack” your mobile device and there are plenty of warnings from the device’s manufacturer – and your carrier – as to why you shouldn’t.  While it is tempting to free your device and make it do things you normally couldn’t, adhering to stock software keeps you in the security update loop. 

6.  Watch Out for Malicious Apps

A while ago, it came out that one of the most popular Android apps – at the time it was a flashlight app – was secretly sending user data from any phone with the particular flashlight app installed back home to China.  Pay attention to the permissions requested by an app before you install it – a flashlight app or tip calculator app DOES NOT need to access your contact list or your location.

NOTE:  The flashlight thing happened a long time ago.  The flashlight function built into your phone now is perfectly safe.  Don’t worry.

 7.  Look Out for Old Scams Under New Wrappers

Con men and fraudsters still exist, but instead of approaching you in person to say they’re a long-lost relative, they’re doing it on Facebook… or Twitter.  Or worse, they’re PRETENDING TO BE A FAMILY MEMBER!  Always validate an unusual request – especially a request for information or money – independently through an already established channel.  Also, if you’re approached by a “long lost” family member that you’ve never met in your 60+ years, and the first thing they do is ask for money… it’s probably best that you go back to “never met”.

With all of these, it’s important to remember that scammers play one very big cat and mouse game.  While it’s important to follow all of these tips, the biggest tool for combating scammers and thieves is your own built-in common sense.  Be careful out there!