The surge for online shopping brings heightened cybersecurity risks for consumers this holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aaron Brantly, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Political Science, offers a number of safety tips for preventing online scams.

  • Watch out for fake websites and scams. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Shop only from a secure computer and consider using a service such as PayPal or Apple Pay.
  • Do not use a debit card if possible.
  • Make sure that any website you engage in commerce on has “SSL” often viewed as a lock icon on Safari and Chrome.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you disclose.
  • Search on retail sites (Walmart, Amazon, Target, Best Buy, etc.) rather than using search engines and shop from trusted vendors.
  • Consider what you are purchasing: Where was it made? What types of data will be used by it and will it collect? What are the terms of service associated with its use? Does it meet security standards? Is it manufactured by a reputable producer?
  • Review your credit card statements and banking statements regularly to identify potentially fraudulent purchases.
  • Use a password manager such as Keychain, LastPass, or 1Password to create unique user IDs and passwords for each site you visit. Do not reuse passwords or usernames, particularly those used on banking, billing, or medical sites.  
  • Consider shopping locally; local businesses have been especially hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brantly, who also directs the Tech4Humanity Lab, has worked on issues related to cybersecurity from multiple angles, including human rights and development, intelligence and national security, and military cybersecurity. His interests span the political science and computer science divide.