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Cyber experts warn of online shopping risks this holiday season

Posted at 11:15 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 11:15:16-05

CHICAGO, Ill. — The pandemic is forcing many Americans to ditch in-store shopping for online this holiday season and experts say cyber criminals will be looking to take advantage.

More than 50% of consumers say they will shop online this holiday season due to the pandemic. That spending is projected to account for more than $200 billion.

“There is probably going to be more fraudulent use of online and online deliveries than we have seen before,” said Neil Daswani, a cyber security expert at Stanford University and the author of "Big Breaches: Cybersecurity Lessons for Everyone."

He says COVID-19 related phishing scams spiked as soon as the pandemic hit. And with malware attacks, unencrypted data and third-party breaches, there will likely be more this holiday shopping season.

“Cyber criminals are very well aware of the current situation and they are going to do everything they can to take advantage of it,” he said.

According to the FBI, cyber crime has increased by 400% this year. But there are things consumers can do to protect themselves.

Consider identity protection services. These companies can monitor many data sources, including credit files, social media and the dark web.

Enable two-factor authentication for every online account you have that offers it, and call the three major credit services to freeze your credit.

“I think that your credit should be regularly frozen except when you go about getting a new home mortgage or getting a car loan,” said Daswani. “You can always unfreeze it just before you do any of those activities.”

Another vulnerability that Daswani says is important to pay attention to is your home router.

“If you bought your home router and you just hooked it up and you didn't say change the password on it, then attackers can take advantage of those commonly used default passwords and hack into your home router,” he said. “And once they've done that, they can control anything and everything.”

With increased remote working, learning and online shopping experts say a cyber pandemic could be the next catastrophic global event. They say understanding your cyber risks and taking measures now could protect you in the long run.