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How consumers can stay safe shopping online this festive season

As local businesses ramp up for Black Friday and the biggest shopping season of the year, consumers are vulnerable to threats from bad actors. Here’s how they can educate themselves and stay safe online this Black Friday.

TransUnion data from Q3 this year shows that half of consumers surveyed were unaware of digital fraud schemes targeting them. This is concerning, TransUnion notes, because it means they may have been targeted and were not aware of it.

Says PayPal sales development director for Africa Mark Mwongela, “People are working remotely, shopping online and engaging in digital commerce far more than they were before the pandemic. This makes them vulnerable to fraud and scams.”

As cyber-criminals have adapted to consumers’ changing habits, consumers likewise need to keep up with changing fraud and theft trends. Below, Mwongela details a few ways consumers can keep themselves safe this coming festive season and all year round.

Watch out for 419 scams – While these have been around almost as long as the internet has, they’re rapidly evolving and still popular amongst fraudsters – because they’re incredibly effective. The basic premise is that you are promised something – a massive amount of money, goods, services and so on – but you have to pay an upfront fee first.

The most recent iteration of this is an email and SMS scam asking consumers to pay to release a parcel that’s arrived at the Post Office. Consumers are directed to a page where they either enter their credit card details or deposit money into an account.

Consumers can guard against these by checking the URLs of websites sent via email or SMS, contacting the entity that the spammer is claiming to be to confirm – including looking on their website for scam or fraud warning notices – and remembering that if it sounds too good to be true it almost always is. Unless it’s a credible supplier, don’t pay upfront, warns Mwongela. “Once the scammers have your money they’ll disappear into the ether.”

Maintain strong, unique passwords – Passwords are an ongoing weak point in the fight against online crime. Data from LastPass shows that while 92% of people know using a variation of the same password is risky, 65% usually use the same password or variants thereof anyway. Verizon has reported that 80% of data breaches are linked to passwords, and TransUnion notes that 11% of South Africans have been victims of identity theft.

Identity theft can have devastating consequences, and happens online when people unwittingly send personal details to scammers (phishing attacks) or have their details compromised when hackers breach a company database or system.

Guarding against identity theft requires consumers to use strong passwords, that they update regularly, never share with anyone, and don’t re-use, comments Mwongela, and, never reply to emails or text messages asking you to share personal information.

“Your bank will never ask for this information via email or text message and nor will the Post Office or any other institution that would legitimately need your password, credit card number, bank account number, driver’s license number, identity number, email or full name,” Mwongela says.

Keep an eye on your information – Being vigilant and keeping up to date with your accounts – including checking your bank accounts and credit score regularly – can help you to pick up any unauthorised activity early on. Adjust your privacy settings on your social media accounts to their highest settings, and hide your friends’ lists to stop people cloning your account and asking your friends for money in the guise of an emergency. Implement two-factor authentication on every service that offers this (and that’s most of them from your payment provider to your email service and your social media network). Keep your computer and mobile phone software up to date, as these updates often include important security upgrades.

“Keeping abreast of cyber criminals is an ongoing effort,” says Mwongela, “for businesses and consumers. Technology like biometrics and password managers can help, but ongoing education is the most effective way we have to combat fraud.”

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