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November 21, 2019

How to Protect Your Privacy on Black Friday

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Black Friday is right around the corner and millions of consumers will take to the streets and take to their phones to scour businesses for the best deals on everything from clothes to cars. Last year, an estimated 58 million people in the United States alone took part in online shopping, while a further 65 million shopped both online and in store.

While those statistics are great for businesses who are raking in the revenue, Black Friday opens eager online shoppers up to privacy threats that they may not otherwise face, thanks to the thrill of the deal overriding most instincts when it comes to internet safety. Concerned shoppers don’t have to eschew the holiday altogether but should be aware of the ways their info may fall into the wrong hands. In order to stay safe, take a look at these tips on how to protect your privacy on Black Friday:

  • Shop only on SSL secured websites
  • Don’t click any email links
  • Update your software before shopping
  • Use a VPN
  • Research suspicious sites
  • Don’t try out new websites
  • Avoid public wifi

Shop Only on SSL Secured Websites

The threat of hacking is one almost all websites consider. Because of that threat, the minds behind our online safety came up with a solution: SSL security. SSL is short for “secure sockets layer.” Its function on a website is to establish an encrypted connection between a user and the website. This layer of security prevents prying eyes from seeing the activities of a user.

SSL is especially important to protect shopper privacy on Black Friday because it ensures the financial information a consumer shares with a website is encrypted and safe from theft. A non-SSL website puts that information at risk, so shoppers should never use them to buy online. In order to check if a website uses this type of encryption, take a look at its URL. If the URL has a lock next to it, starts with HTTPS (instead of just HTTP) and/or turns green, it means the site is secure to use and buy from.

Don’t Click Any Email Links

When it comes to Black Friday, thousands of businesses are vying for your attention and your money. One of the most popular methods for them to reach you is through sending marketing emails with gift guides, deals of the day and other information about the sales being held during the shopping holiday. However, in order to maintain your privacy on Black Friday, you should never click any of the links inside these messages. The reason is simple: if a business can send you an email, so can a hacker.

A common scheme used by hackers to steal your information is called “phishing” in which they send you an email that appears to be from a legitimate business. By clicking links in those messages, you may inadvertently download files such as viruses and malware onto your device, or you may be sent to a fake website that looks like the real thing in order to steal credit card information if you make a “purchase.” While phishing is a risk that we can face every day of the year, it’s especially effective on Black Friday when shoppers let their guard down. So, instead of clicking links in any email (legit or otherwise), manually type in the URL of the website you wish to visit, and shop the deals there.

Update Your Software Before Shopping

Before you start shopping the deals, take a few minutes to protect your privacy on Black Friday by updating your software. With every update that a company puts out for a device, comes hackers trying to find security flaws in those updates. A flaw found and exploited can have devastating consequences for a user. However, just as hackers are looking for flaws, so is the company behind the update in the first place. If their teams find weaknesses in their software, they immediately begin creating a patch for it. Those patches are then released in the next iteration of the software. By updating your devices before you begin shopping, you ensure you have the most updated security as well.

Use a VPN to Protect Your Privacy on Black Friday

SSL encryption adds an extra layer of security to every website that uses that style of encryption. However, it doesn’t follow you from site to site, meaning you may move from a safe place online to one that where your data is visible to third parties. Rather than take this risk, use a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your entire browsing session so that you don’t have to rely on websites to do it for you. Even if you come to a place online that can be seen by prying eyes, the VPN will protect your data by displaying only encrypted content. There are dozens of options out there for you to choose from.

Research Suspicious Sites

Sometimes you just can’t find the deal you want on the major commerce sites that take part in Black Friday. Instead, you may find the right deal on a small website that you have never heard of before. Is it legit though? It may be hard to tell. So, if you come across a website that you’re not familiar with or possibly suspicious of, you have two options. The safest is to not shop on that site at all. But, if the deal is just too good to pass up, research the business first. A quick web search can turn up results about the legitimacy of an organization. Also take a look at sites such as the Better Business Bureau which creates a database of trustworthy websites for consumers.

Don’t Try Out New Websites

When it comes to your online safety, Black Friday is not the best day to give your financial information, such as credit card numbers, to websites you aren’t familiar with and don’t fully trust. Even if you come across a website with a stellar deal, it’s always best to save your money rather than impulse buy. Take the time to thoroughly research a website’s privacy policy, terms of service, and product reviews. Reach out to their customer service team with any questions you may have as well. While an excellent discount might be tempting, it isn’t worth having your information fall into the wrong hands if it turns out to be fake.

Avoid Public Wifi

When the Black Friday sales first launch, many people will browse them using the public wifi during their commute, their wait in line at Starbucks, or wherever else they may be in public that offers a free network to connect to. Although free wifi is convenient and saves your cellular data, it’s actually an unsafe platform for users. Anyone else on the same network, with a little bit of tech know-how, can watch your activities. If you’re simply browsing, the risk to your data is lower. However, any user that makes a purchase on public wifi runs the risk of the financial data being visible to everyone else on the network. Instead of risking it, just bookmark the sale and wait to make your purchase until you’re on a secured wifi network, or using your cellular data instead.

Black Friday is one of the most exciting days of the year for consumers and businesses alike. Keep your shopping spree safe with these tips.

You can also protect yourself any day of the year with HotBot VPN.

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