Cyber Monday Security Tips: Shop Safer Online

Hands of a person on a laptop shopping on cyber Monday with a coffee cup and the words "cyber Monday" next to it.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still with us, traditional Black Friday shopping will be complicated this year. Many retailers have stated they will not be open at all on Black Friday, and those who do open their doors will have to deal with the challenge of maintaining social distance and keeping their stores within a limited capacity.

Related Article: Tackle the Holidays Early This Year

Since it was established in 2005, “Cyber Monday” has emerged as the biggest online shopping day of the year. This takes place the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, and many online retailers offer deals to attract buyers that day. In 2020, Cyber Monday will be bigger than ever as shoppers avoid lines and exposure to coronavirus while doing holiday shopping.

It’s important to take extra steps to shop safely and securely online, especially during a busy Cyber Monday this year.

Use a Secure Payment Method

Payment services like Paypal will allow you to link your bank account to pay for online purchases without having to resort to borrowing through credit cards. You can also dispute fraudulent or erroneous charges made to your Paypal account, so this is a secure method for buying online

Other options like Venmo, Google Wallet, and Stripe also exist, though Paypal is certainly the most popular of these methods and the one that you’ll see offered by the most retailers.

More Resources: How to Use Technology to Manage Your Money Better

Be very careful with your Paypal account password, as this could give someone direct access to your bank accounts. This is a very secure way to pay for online purchases, but you have to do your part and keep your login credentials secure.

Other online payment options, like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, allow you to use your credit cards without disclosing your payment information to the vendor. Your device securely verifies your payment info without sharing it and leaving you vulnerable.

Don’t Use a Debit Card

If you must use plastic for your online shopping, do use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit cards have extra legal protections that debit transactions don’t have.

If you have a fraudulent transaction, or you order something that is never delivered, your liability is limited to $50 under the law when you use a credit card. And if you report the issue quickly, many credit card companies will waive that part of the charge as well. You don’t have these same legal protections when you use a debit card.

It’s also easier to deal with a compromised account when you use credit. Your credit card company will cancel the card and issue you a new one with a new number or security code. If you have to do this with a debit card, you could be without access to your funds until the new card arrives. Being without a credit card for a week is much less serious of a problem.

Finally, if you have a fraudulent credit card charge, you can let that float until it’s dealt with and the charge is removed. A fraudulent debit card charge actually takes money out of your bank account, leaving you short—this can lead to bounced checks, overdue bills, etc. Even if you eventually get your money back, the hassle of debit card fraud has expensive cascading effects.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a credit card, you can still make safe purchases online. Consider getting a prepaid debit card. That way, your account information can’t be compromised. You can also consider getting a debit card that you use specifically for online purchases. Not only will you be able to keep your information safer, but you’ll also be able to better control your overdraft permissions, which will prevent any large unauthorized purchases.

Be Careful Where You Buy

Check out any site you buy from carefully. Stick with trusted retailers, of course, and make sure you’re looking at the actual retailers’ site, and not an imposter. Look for the padlock icon at the beginning of the web URL to ensure you’re at a secure site.

You can actually click on the padlock to get more information, like when the security certificate for the site was issued and by whom.

Be careful of store sites that forward you to another domain, especially if that domain is in another country. Never change your country or region in your mobile device or computer’s settings just to gain access to a special deal internationally. Any app or retailer that makes you falsify your home country to gain access to their products is very suspicious and should be avoided.

Read the Fine Print

Be skeptical anywhere you shop, and check reviews, keep receipts, and double check your financial statements to ensure the correct amount was charged as agreed.

Get used to reading the fine print when shopping online. Especially when looking at things like shipping times. You have 60 days by law to dispute credit card charges and avoid liability. If a retailer says they won’t even ship your goods for more than 60 days, then there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get the goods, and no recourse for you legally if they fail to deliver.

And given that you’re shopping around the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, you almost certainly want any of your purchases and gifts delivered timely. So double check to ensure that quick delivery is guaranteed in any online purchase.

Another online purchase to be careful with is gift cards. You have to look carefully at the fine print here—are the gift cards going to be emailed or physically delivered to the recipient? How long does the recipient have to spend the gifted balance? Will fees be charged if the card isn’t used right away?

A big question is whether the physical gift card will expire before the balance does. By law, the balance typically cannot expire for five years, but the actual card could expire sooner, forcing you to order another card to access the funds. Also, see if the retailer or bank is charging you a fee for purchasing the gift card. If you’re buying for everyone on your shopping list, those fees can add up.

Don’t Shop Online in Public

If you’re in a public place and connected to wifi, you’re potentially not secure. Anyone else on a public wifi network might be able to connect to your device and intercept your information.

If you must shop away from your own trusted wifi network, then turn off wifi and try to use your mobile device’s cellular connection instead. If you’re on a tablet or laptop in public, use your phone to create a mobile hotspot rather than using public wifi.

Besides wifi connections, your physical environment must be safe. If you’re in a crowded coffee shop—first of all, what are you thinking? Avoid crowded public places during a pandemic!—be sure no one is looking over your shoulder or in a position where they can snap a cell phone pic of your credit card details.

Be Financially Secure

It’s vital to protect your accounts & passwords, and keep your devices secure, but we also want you to think about your overall financial security. Shopping safely means taking steps to ensure your finances can handle your holiday shopping spree.

Stay on Budget

Don’t spend without a plan. Learn to budget and make sure every dollar you spend was something you planned out in advance and in writing. Take control of your spending and don’t let attractive online sales lure you into spending money you don’t have.

Don’t Borrow to Shop

Using credit cards means borrowing, and you shouldn’t do your Black Friday shopping with borrowed money. Credit cards can be a safe and convenient way to buy, buy you should only shop with plastic if you have a plan in place to repay the debt right away.

Use Security Monitoring

Most credit card companies have built-in fraud protection and purchase monitoring to protect you. Look at the features offered by your credit card companies, and use the card with the most robust security features for any online purchases.

If you have too many cards to choose from when doing this analysis, it’s important to ensure you’re not overdoing it with credit cards. Talk to a debt coach for advice on getting those cards paid off, and consider a credit report review to ensure your credit report is accurate and reflects positively on you.

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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