The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and consumers -- including business owners -- are increasingly reaching for their smartphones and tablets to satisfy their retail itch. One in three people in the U.S. will use their mobile devices to make a purchase this holiday season, according to a recent study by Chicago-based ecommerce consulting firm the e-tailing group.
Problem is, cyber criminals have taken notice, and they're targeting mobile shoppers. "As financial transactions migrate to mobile devices, so do cybercriminals," says Chiranjeev Bordoloi, co-founder and CEO of TopPatch, a New York City cybersecurity company.
Consumers often feel an urgency to make quicker purchasing decisions due to the rapid growth of daily deals and other online offers, Bordoloi says. That means savvy cybercriminals can target consumers in a particular location and capture information such as names, addresses and credit card numbers. They can also trick consumers into divulging this information through malware and phishing scams.
To safeguard against these threats and help ensure a nightmare-free holiday season, Bordoloi recommends these three security tips when shopping with a mobile device:
1. Adjust your device's Wi-Fi settings. Open access Wi-Fi networks -- such as those in parks and public spaces -- are notoriously easy for hackers to crack, Bordoloi says. Many phones and tablets are pre-set to connect to these networks when in range. Hackers can seize control of an open network and gain access to any data that flows through it, including credit card numbers and billing addresses.
If you're going to shop this season using a mobile device, do so using only Wi-Fi networks you trust. Shoppers on-the-go should check their device to make sure it asks permission before joining a network, Bordoloi says. The process can vary between iOS, Android and other mobile operating systems.
You can also simply use the internet network supplied by wireless service providers, if your device is 3G- or 4G-enabled. These are hosted networks and therefore more difficult for hackers to crack into, Bordoloi says.
2. Be skeptical when downloading apps from unknown developers. If you consider downloading a shopping app this season, keep in mind that cybercriminals can use apps to capture sensitive information, Bordoloi says. Learn about the developer's credentials before downloading an app.
"It takes one minute to search online for the developer's name and the word 'malware,'" he says. Always download the latest version of an app since developers tend to fix security holes in updated versions.
3. Don't fall for 'phishing' scams and too-good-to-be-true deals. If you receive a deal from a brand you don't recognize, avoid clicking on any of the links in the e-mail or text -- especially with time-sensitive deals, Bordoloi warns.
Be cognizant of phishing scams, which are attempts to lure you into divulging your personal information. These could be personalized email messages or texts telling you about exclusive deals and discounts. Phishing scams take advantage of a consumer's anxiety to secure the best possible price, so it's important to do your research before you click.