Online fraud spikes during the holiday shopping season, as people searching for the perfect gifts take to cyberspace and head to traditional stores armed with their smartphones.
“The Pandora’s box of cyberattacks is about to open,” says Pete Tyrrell, chief operating officer for Digital Guardian, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based data protection firm. “The cybercriminals are getting more and more creative—and at the end of the day, it’s your personal information at risk.”
Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your information from online Grinches.
BEWARE OF GIFTS OF FREE WI-FI
It’s awful tempting to sign on to a store’s free Wi-Fi while you’re out shopping, especially since store walls are notorious for blocking or weakening smartphone data connections. But fraudsters also may be lurking on the networks, ready to use that connection to steal credit card or other personal information.
“People may want to log on to their Best Buy or Amazon accounts to check prices, but open Wi-Fi is probably the least secure place to do that,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
And never use open Wi-Fi connections to check bank account information. The last thing you want a hacker to have is a direct connection to your bank account.
If you’re tech-savvy enough to use VPN software—short for “virtual private network,” a technique for shutting would-be eavesdroppers out of your connection—on your phone, then free Wi-Fi is safe so long as you have the VPN on. For most people, though,…