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November 24, 2020

Privacy Tip of the Week: Smart Online Shopping for Black Friday

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Black Friday is less than a week away, with Cyber Monday right on its heels. In fact, many retailers have also launched early deals for shoppers to enjoy. Millions of people view the upcoming sale weekend as the official kickoff for holiday shopping. And, of course, people love a sale as a reason to treat themselves. If you plan on taking advantage of the savings and steals, keep in mind these tips for smart online shopping (both during Black Friday, and for the rest of the year too):

  • Use secure websites
  • Limit the information you give away
  • Set strong passwords
  • Don’t open email links or attachments
  • Use an ad blocker
  • Avoid shopping on unsecure public wi-fi

Use Secure Websites

There are a lot of dangers on the internet. Websites can protect against many of them by using strong site security. In general, you can tell if a website uses strong security by looking at its URL. If the site address starts with “https,” instead of just “http,” it’s protected by SSL security, which means activity on that website is encrypted. Alternatively, if you look at the URL and see a lock icon next to it, you can click the lock and it will tell you whether or not the website is secure. A secure website is especially important for smart online shopping, because it means your account and credit card information can’t be seen by anyone other than you, and the website.

Limit the Information You Give Away

Some websites ask for a lot of your information. Aside from your basic contact info for shipping purposes, some sites also want to know your date of birth, gender, interests, and more. Best case, they use it for demographic information to improve their marketing campaigns. Worst case, they sell it to advertisers and other third parties, or it gets stolen in a hack. In either situation, the information you give may be a breach to your privacy, especially if a website requests information beyond the bare minimum to ship your purchases to you. Rather than freely giving those details away, consider omitting them in forms where it’s optional. If a website makes that info mandatory, consider shopping somewhere else altogether.

Set Strong Passwords

In some cases, an ecommerce website may ask you to create an account before completing a purchase. In this situation, create your account with a strong password. The password acts as a gateway to protect the information associated with your account, which may include things like your name, address, purchase history, and credit card information. By using a strong password, you reduce the chances of your account being hacked.

Don’t Open Email Links or Attachments

In the days and weeks leading up to Black Friday, retailers launch expansive advertising campaigns, many of which include sending promotional emails. Those emails come chock full of links, directing you to their websites so you can cash in on the amazing deals they offer. However, an important part of smart online shopping is avoiding clicking these links. Even if an email looks legit, many scammers specialize in making real-looking emails designed to gather your information or install malware on your devices. Rather than clicking on links in emails, navigate to the business’ website yourself.

In addition, retailers don’t send discount codes or coupons as attachments. If a “business” sends you attachments, don’t open them and delete the email, as a rule of thumb.

Use an Ad Blocker

Almost all websites sell advertising space. Not all of them vet the people who pay for that space. Because of this, the internet may be filled with ads that contain spam and malware when Black Friday rolls around. To avoid seeing and clicking these links (even accidentally), enable an ad blocker.

Avoid Shopping on Unsecure Public Wi-Fi

Picture this scenario: you go into a store and see a product you like. It’s a little too pricey, or the checkout line is too long. So you look it up online over the store’s free wi-fi and, lo and behold, the product is cheaper on the website. A couple clicks and some credit card information later, you’ve placed your order and have something to look forward to.

Although shopping online in this way is fast and convenient, unprotected public wi-fi actually threatens your privacy and device safety. Cybercriminals can monitor the activities of others on a shared network, which may mean seeing your credit card details or other account information. Rather than using an unprotected network, wait until you return home to private wi-fi or use a VPN, a digital privacy tool that encrypts your activity so no one outside of your transactions can see it.


Black Friday is a great day to shop for loved ones and yourself. It’s not a great day, nor is any other, for data theft, phishing, malware attacks, or any of the other dangers lurking on the internet to strike. These smart online shopping tips can help keep you safe.

HotBot VPN can also offer an extra layer of security on all your devices. Try our Android, Windows, and iOS apps today!

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