Ah, the festive season! A time of cheer, high spirits, and of course, shopping. As frost appears, snowflakes drift from the sky and fairy lights twinkles, countless people flock to major retail outlets — both in stores and online, seeking the perfect gifts for their loved ones. But, dear reader, there are leering ghosts lurking in the festive glow: scammers and hackers, ready to pounce on the unwary and make away with precious data; and your funds. Today, I, your friendly storyteller, weave a cautionary tale of digital theft and the crucial armor of awareness.
Picture this: Sarah, a middle-school teacher, sits cozily in her living room, sipping hot cocoa, surfing the web making holiday purchases for family and friends. This particular website she’s on seems legitimate, with all the appeal of a reputable online store. Without giving much thought to the matter, she keys in her credit card details, completes the purchase and to her satisfaction, sees the confirmation window. Sarah then moves on to the next site as she checks off her list. Little did she know, behind that digital curtain, a malevolent hacker just siphoned all her credit card data as the bandit implemented an attack known as clickjacking. Which happens when an attacker compromises a vulnerable web server and tampers with the clickable boxes on the site. The hacker will place a transparent button or link over a legitimate looking clickable button that will take the unwary user to a completely different site or page that looks valid and asks the user questions that the hacker collects the answers to on the back-end.
Certainly, the holiday season isn’t just a time of joy, it’s also open season for scammers. As more transactions occur, they cast their nets wide, hoping to catch unsuspecting shoppers in their snares. But you may wonder, “how would I get caught up in a scammer’s snare if I’m more careful than that?”. Here are a few quick touch points:
Phishing: Scammers send fake e-mails, text messages, and voice messages in attempts to lure you into malicious websites, answering fake phone calls, or replying to a text message seemingly from a family member or friend.
Fake Online Stores or Hacked Websites: These can appear to be genuine sites like the one Sarah stumbled upon, but malicious forces have attacked them, and tricked the eye into legitimacy. Make sure you see the prefix “https” in the search bar with the padlock visible as well. It’s also wise to use a VPN during your internet travels.
Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi access is now more common than the neighborhood liquor store. They’re a playground for hackers. Again, using a formidable and trustworthy VPN will shield you from harmful exploits.
The aftermath? Beyond the wreckage of financial loss, stolen identities, battling fraudulent charges, and the hassles of credit repair, victims amass countless hours of loss fighting to recover what’s been taken from them. This takes an immeasurable emotional toll on victims and shatters their sense of security, replacing it with a lingering fear of invisible criminals.
But fear not, dear reader. Protection is at your fingertips!
Firstly, it’s okay to trust your gut instincts. If a deal or an offer appears too good to be true — it probably is, don’t trust it; it’s best to move on. Check the URL of the website you’re shopping on. As mentioned in previous paragraphs, make sure it starts with ‘https’ — the ‘s’ stands for secure and is usually accompanied with a padlock, reassuring the site is encrypted. Try your best to avoid clicking on any links in your e-mail. It’s safer to key in the website’s actual address in the search bar of your browser; with all the slashes and dashes included.
Always use strong, unique passwords to protect your web accounts and never save credit card information on sites. If you find yourself using public Wi-Fi, don’t do any shopping, banking or transactional business involving money and account logins. If you must use public Wi-Fi remember the advice in previous sections and use a VPN to protect yourself. Period.
Secondly, if you’re thinking, “I wish there was a simple and straightforward guide to all this,” then you’re in for a treat. For the common folk who travel the vast avenues of the web often and seek armor against its perils, I present to you: Online Safety For The Every Day User (in 10 easy steps) This e-book fashioned with the everyday user in mind, unravels the mysteries of online safety, making it accessible to all. Find it here: bit.ly/onlinesafety-eb.
As the embers of this discussion fade, remember, dear reader, the digital realm, much like a bustling marketplace, has its share of pickpockets and tricksters. But with a touch of caution and a dash of knowledge, you can walk through it, confident with head held high, your treasures secure.
May your holidays be merry, bright, and most importantly, safe.
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