The Monday following Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest online shopping day of the year as Cyber Monday rounds out a trio of sales events on the heels of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. As the holiday shopping season kicks off, Nathan Underwood, owner of Cyber Tech Cafe, urges consumers to be careful when shopping online.
His first piece of advice is to shop with reputable vendors. This, however, may be more involved than name recognition or checking with the Better Business Bureau. Be careful following links to a website and always check the address bar to make sure the site is legitimate, misspelled web addresses may result in fraudulent vendors.
"If you're going to a website to give that website money, make sure it's not some fly-by-night operation," Underwood said. "Look in the address bar. It's very, very easy for a malicious type person to create a fake website that looks identical to a real website -- we see that with banking all the time.
"A website might look, feel completely safe, but in reality when you are plugging in your credit card information it's not going to buy the item that you expected to buy."
Just as click-through links can lead to dishonest vendors, coupons and advertisements sent through email are a common entry point for unsuspecting shoppers.
"Be very weary of anything you get via email. If you get a coupon via email, don't click on the links in the coupon. The coupon will have a coupon code that you can then manually go to the vendor's website and enter that code in," Underwood said.
Another way to check website security and validity is by looking for a SSL certificate verifying purchase information encryption. An icon, typically of a lock, should be displayed on the webpage signifying a secure shopping process. Underwood suggests also verifying the certificate is awarded to the company you are shopping from by clicking on the icon to retrieve certificate information.
For general protection, make sure antivirus software is up to date and Underwood advises online users to veer away from the popular web browser Internet Explorer in favor of browsers offering more security, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
"Don't use Internet Explorer," Underwood said. "Google Chrome does a very good job of identifying malicious sites and they do it fairly quickly. ... If you're using Firefox, there's a really good free plugin for Firefox called Web of Trust.
"The built in protections in Chrome and the Web of Trust plugin are two really good tools."
As far as shopping is concerned, Underwood stresses the old adage, "If it looks too good to be true -- it probably is."
Lastly, as the holiday season approaches, attacks will be made on the good intentions of online users. Malicious emails are common this time of year asking for money and offering impossible rewards.
"Americans are charitable giving people, the bad guys know that. So I suspect that we'll see a rush of phishing emails," Underwood said, referring to a scam method for acquiring sensitive information. "Always be aware and conscious if you get an email from somebody that says, 'Something horrible has happened, I need your help.' Or, 'Here's a dog-gone good opportunity for you to help." There's a good chance it's a scam, there's always a rush of them this time of year."
For holiday donations, Underwood urges Bartow County residents to be safe when giving online and to avoid unneccesary dangers, consider giving locally whether through a church or other charitable organization.
"Contact the organization directly, contact your local church if you're wanting to give money. And in your community there will always be good organizations that are well established," Underwood said. "If there are new charities that you are wanting to support -- study them, do your due diligence to look into what they're all about and if they do have online options find out directly from them, don't give in response to an email solicitation directly."