The Equifax breach has everyone nervous about their security in cyberspace – with good reason. And since an ounce of prevention is worth the proverbial pound of cure, you should you be extra-vigilant on Cyber Monday this year.
Security fraud by the numbers
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that the Equifax breach affected 143 million people, exposing information listed on a consumer’s credit report, including such personal financial details as Social Security numbers, home addresses, and credit card account numbers – opening the door to potential fraud and identity theft.
Equifax is just the latest (and perhaps most troubling) high-profile data breach, and it has many consumers justifiably on edge as the holiday shopping season hits high gear. Last year, Cyber Monday spending was up 10.2 percent over the prior year, clocking in around $3.39 billion. And even with the increased anxiety about data vulnerabilities, there’s no reason to think that this year’s Cyber Monday sales won’t set another record. If you’re among the shoppers who can’t pass up the savings incentives online, how can you rest a little easier?
Cyber Monday and online best practices
The normal rules of online shopping certainly apply on Cyber Monday, but it is always good to run some self-diagnostics on your online shopping strategies. The FTC also provides a handy tip sheet for safe Cyber Monday shopping.
You have probably already noticed a spike in the number of emails from retailers hitting your inbox. This spike provides perfect cover for phishing scams and phony advertisements, where criminals send emails that appear to be from a legitimate source but are, instead, vehicles to separate you from your money or your personal information. Read emails very closely, looking for misspellings, odd syntax, or unfamiliar web addresses. Be suspicious. Avoid clicking links in non-verified emails.
In addition to being vigilant about incoming messages, you need to be confident in the security of your network and hardware. Public computers and Wi-Fi are extremely vulnerable. Now might be a good time to invest in a password manager that will automatically generate secure and unique passwords and to consider a virtual private network (VPN) service.
If you shop via a smartphone or tablet, use only trusted applications for in-app purchases. Download vendor apps directly from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Don’t use a forwarded link or web address.
Where to go for help
If you notice suspicious activity on any of your accounts, report it immediately. If you are concerned about identity theft, the federal government provides information, resources, and how-tos for consumers at IdentityTheft.gov. If you’re looking for information directly related to the Equifax breach, Equifax has set up a dedicated website just for that purpose. (Initially, Equifax asked consumers to agree to binding arbitration to check their potential vulnerability, but that condition was removed following a public outcry and threatened actions from the attorneys general of several states, including New York.)