Holiday shopping has become such a tradition that it now has its own international holiday.
Two of the them, actually.
In Finland, for instance, where only American expatriates might celebrate Thanksgiving, Black Friday has become an annual celebration of great deals. It’s now the unofficial beginning of the holiday season — much as it is in the U.S. where most people have the day off to fight off their turkey comas. In recent years, Black Friday has increasingly absorbed Thanksgiving Thursday and customers have often had to fight off each other to get to the best deals.
Cyber Monday, the online version of Black Friday, has alway never had any borders. And even though you don’t have other shoppers breathing down your neck, the pressure to get a deal before it’s sold out — or before your boss notices you’re shopping at your desk — can be similarly intense.
Under that kind of pressure, you’re not going to be crushed by a crowd but you could be ripped off by a crook.
You need to start with a secure device, but even that may not be good enough to outsmart all online criminals. So here are three things you can do to prepare yourself for these “holidays.”
- Give yourself a shopping-only browser
Download a browser you don’t currently use right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s Firefox, Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer. Start with it fresh and use it only for online purchasing and banking. Now, disable Java. If you must Adobe Flash in this browser, make sure you have “background updates” on. Now close this browser and ONLY use it when you’re making an actual transaction.
- Don’t let anyone lead you around
Social media and online ads designed to get you to a checkout screen as quickly as possible. You should resist that urge. Avoid clicking on links in deal emails and doing your shopping through a search engine. Go directly to an online retailer whenever possible and use its native search. Then when you’re ready to buy cut and paste the URL into your shopping-only browser. Now, before you enter any private financial details, check the URL and make sure you see HTTPS and that little lock in the browser.
- Always use a VPN, especially when shopping through Wi-Fi
These two steps aren’t just tips, they’re a discipline. They require practice and focus. And they aren’t easy if you’ve never done them before. But the bad news is that even if you master them, you could still be vulnerable if you’re shopping over an unsecured network. That’s why you should always run a VPN, especially when you’re on public Wi-Fi.
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