We all participate in the online shopping frenzy of Cyber Monday, constantly on the lookout for bargains on the second busiest shopping day of the year. Nevertheless, this time of year also marks the start of one of the busiest seasons for cyber criminals looking to exploit online shoppers. You’ve likely seen the cyber shopping warnings and know to avoid would-be fraudsters who peddle unrealistic offers or extreme savings. You know that being tricked into providing personal identifiable information will ultimately lead to identity theft and a not so “ho-ho”-holiday season. I am not here to discourage online shopping but believe a little bit of awareness and four simple steps can help online shoppers avoid an unhappy holiday.

The Cyber Monday Aftermath

After all of your online bargain shopping ends, what happens? You begin to receive a barrage of emails: discounts and incentives to buy more and emails validating your purchase and updating you on shipping and delivery statuses. In almost every case, you receive these notifications through the same mode of communication: email. Besides our credit cards, email is our most common form of cyber identity with retailers. It also seems we become more trusting during this time of year as we seek the good in others as we convey to them the spirit of compassion and giving, raising the risk of digital compromise. With the increase of our online activity, we also accept an increase in our email activity. All of this activity culminates into a cyber criminal’s dream.

As part of the holiday rush, we attend family gatherings and holiday parties at a record pace and shop endlessly for perfect gifts for our loved ones. The more we shop, the more emails with offers, confirmations and notices continue to fill our inbox. In our haste to quickly view and respond, we become the perfect prey.

4 Steps to Avoiding Cyber Crime

So what steps must we take to protect against these types of attacks? It is quite simple – slow down and be observant in reviewing your incoming email. Taking a few moments to do the following can protect yourself and your family from cyber predators:

  1. Look at the senders’ email address. If it does not look legitimate or is from an unexpected sender there is a good chance the email is fraudulent.
  2. Validate if you have done business with the retailer or expect a shipment from a specific carrier. At the time of purchase, retailers often indicate which carrier will provide shipping. Did they say UPS, FedEx or USPS?
  3. Do not click on any links or images. Often cyber criminals hide malicious code or a link to fraudulent sites in a legitimate business logo or URL in the body of the message. One easy trick is to place your mouse cursor over the image or link, without clicking. Hovering like this over the image or link will reveal the actual destination. If it is not directly representative of the retailer or carrier you are expecting, it is most likely a fraudulent email.
  4. Read the actual email in full. Often the email’s grammar and spelling contains errors or even dialect differences inconsistent with your country of origin. Such subtle differences are often the key indicators to identifying a fraudulent email.

So between the holiday parties and traveling, remember to slow down and pay attention to your email, otherwise, some cyber criminal might be enjoying your holiday cheer instead of you.

Your digital footprint will follow you the rest of your life.