With Christmas just around the corner here are some suggestions for how you and your loved ones can stay safe online over this festive period and beyond.
The Shift Online
The pandemic has prompted a huge shift online this year for work and now, with the second wave in full flight, for online shopping. Back in June, an Alvarez & Marsal and Retail Economics survey showed that 17.2 million British consumers (25 per cent of the population) were planning to make permanent changes to the way they shop i.e., by shopping more online. This Christmas, this trend is now becoming a reality as online sales surge as well as an extra forecast surge of online purchases on Christmas Day as soon as retailers lower prices on Christmas Eve.
It is no surprise therefore that the Christmas spending period of November and December is a favourite time of year of fraudsters, many of whom may already have cashed in with COVID-19 scams earlier in the year e.g., fake investment, test and trace, PayPal email and vaccine scams.
With all these potential threats around, here are some suggestions for how you and your loved ones can stay safe.
Before going online shopping, make sure that you have:
- An updated, latest version of your operating system.
- An updated version of anti-virus software.
Online Shopping Tips
- Be wary of links to offers in emails as these could re-direct to phishing pages. Similarly, beware of unexpected emails, texts or posts suggesting clicking on a link or attachment, or potentially fake parcel firm delivery messages which may contain harmful attachments.
- Beware of any phone calls/voicemails/SMS messages purporting to be from banks or well-known retailers regarding purchases or requesting personal details/confirmation of account details.
- Research retailers online that you are unfamiliar with and take extra time to browse the website to make sure that it appears legitimate and trustworthy.
- Check that payment pages have HTTPS at the beginning, there is a closed padlock in the address bar, and that everything looks right.
- If setting passwords as part of an online account/purchase process, use a strong password that you haven’t used elsewhere, use 2-step verification, and consider using a reputable password manager e.g., LastPass.
- Consider paying by credit card as this offers more protection, even from fraud, and (unlike a debit card) doesn’t give any details related to your bank account. As a secure intermediary, PayPal is also a secure way to pay that doesn’t give card numbers that can be stolen and used elsewhere.
- Log out of your account after paying on a website as simply closing the page may not do so.
- If giving event/holiday tickets for next year as a gift, make sure that you are buying from official online outlets such as box offices, sports clubs, reputable fan ticket exchange sites, and travel agents/tour operators with an ABTA/ATOL number and checkable information and independent reviews.
- Check to ensure that you are not purchasing fake/counterfeit goods online e.g., via an unfamiliar eBay store, as these could pose risks to health and home.
- Only download any new apps from official, legitimate sources e.g., Apple’s App Store, Google Play, or Microsoft Store.
Devices and Gadgets
Many (smart) gadgets and devices and IoT items are given as gifts at Christmas. These could include fitness watches, toys, and household as well as computer devices. Some of the ways you can minimise security risks include:
- Changing any default password on new gadgets/devices to your own, individual, more secure password (that you haven’t used anywhere else). This is because many smart gadgets and devices come with the same default password that may already be known to cybercriminals or may a simple password that is easy to crack.
- Make sure that any new phones, tablets, and computers are protected by a security app/software and a PIN or passcode as soon as they are switched on.
Christmas is a particularly special time of year for children, many of whom will either receive a tech gift or will be using technology for entertainment and communications, and who may be out of sight for longer periods of time while the adults are involved in other Christmas activities. Ways to help keep children safe and happy online and when using gadgets and tech games over Christmas include:
- Setting up parental controls on Wi-Fi and making sure that inappropriate or adult content is blocked and time limits for usage are set. See https://www.internetmatters.org/parental-controls/broadband-mobile/.
- Setting agreed boundaries and ground rules in advance e.g., for screen time, number of games, and to ensure that any phones or tablets stay out of the bedroom overnight to charge.
- If children receive games for Christmas, play the game with them to be more aware of the benefits and the risks.
- Ask for access to any games and apps that children are on and ask them to allow you access to the phone.
- If online games appear to use Adobe Flash, consider disabling it because there are now several security concerns about it.
- If you have purchased a console, smartphone, or tablet for Christmas for your child, make sure that it is set up with the right control settings, and is charged and ready to use before you wrap it up.
- Make sure that you have seen and dealt with any settings for e.g., online searching or “in-app” purchases.
Parents can find more helpful advice about apps, games (TikTok, Roblox) social media and more from Netaware https://www.net-aware.org.uk/ or Common Sense Media https://www.commonsensemedia.org/.
You may already be using many of these suggestions and a good helping of common sense as part of your online routines. In order to make sure that you have a happy Christmas in the online world, therefore, the message is to be prepared and always check and take a minute before clicking.