You’re out pounding the high street, or the mall, shopping like a demon this Black Friday, or Christmas Eve. All around you is frantic and you just need to grab a moment to pull up your phone and check the prices against the stores competitors.
Your phone tells you that you are connected to a free Wi-Fi network as you search feverishly for a price comparison. This seems good, but you should beware what happens next.
Not that long ago, the biggest danger of whipping out an expensive I Phone or tablet in a public shopping area was that it would be stolen or your purse could be lifted whilst you were otherwise engrossed in your transaction. This could totally still happen, by the way, but now there is another way that criminals could pick your pockets whilst you hunt for bargains this Christmas.
Because now scammers have moved on a little from simply dipping your bags to stealing your online information via fake or poorly secured Wi-Fi hotspots, mainly in shopping malls.
And they stand to potentially make a lot of money, as now 30% of spending over Black Friday and Cyber Monday are estimated to take place on a mobile phone or other device.
There are a few ways in which hackers can steal your digital information and therefore get into your online accounts.
Some take advantage of poorly secured, but genuine, Wi-Fi networks, in places like shopping malls. Security experts Skycure launched their own investigations into the safety of security in networks in major American retail centers and compiled a list of the ones that they believe to have been compromised by scammers.
Coming out top of the list for most risky was Las Vegas’s Fashion Show Mall and second was Tysons Corner Center, in Mclean near Washington DC.
Often the legitimate but badly secured network will be hacked and the user pointed towards a malicious site that can target personal information.
If your phone starts behaving oddly or directing you towards some unknown site, especially one asking for personal data, be suspicious, they say.
Other ways the scammers can get into your wallet are by the spread of fake apps. These can quite often be for a trusted corporation, like Starbucks, who have had their app cloned by the fakers, in order to sting the people who download it.
The advice given by cyber security firm Skycure would be to only ever download apps from a trusted source, such as Google or Apple.
Other times the scams get a little more creative and invent their own bad apps. One such invention was a bogus “Amazon Rewards” app, promising freebies and vouchers if people downloaded it.
To try and avoid being the target of cyber criminals whilst out shopping in real life this Christmas, or Black Friday, you should follow these tips.
- DON’T CONNECT TO ANY NETWORK THAT IS NOT LOCAL
The advice here is that if a network is telling you it is available to log onto, but it is quite some way from you, physically, it could be too good to be true.
- DON’T LOG INTO PERSONAL ACCOUNTS FROM PUBLIC WI-FI
To be totally safe in the mall, it is better not to do your online banking whilst connected up to the coffee shop’s network.
Remember, it is okay to browse information about directions from a Wi-Fi hotspot, but logging into online accounts, even social media ones, could be risky.
- WAIT UNTIL YOU FIND A TRUSTED CONNECTION FOR ONLINE SHOPPING
If you are out and about, it is better to wait and find a provider you trust before shopping online. Or wait till you get home.
- BE WARY OF APPS FROM UNKNOWN SOURCES
Only get apps from trusted places like Google and Apple to make sure you are not downloading something untoward.