6 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

6 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

This year many people will be shopping online instead of going to brick and mortar stores. It’s the physically safer way to prepare for the holidays. However, given that so many people will be online, it’s a safe bet that criminals and scammers will also be out in force. 

Stay cyber safe online with these tips. 

 

Keep your online apps updated

Before you start browsing on Thanksgiving night (or whenever you begin your holiday shopping hunt), run your updated antivirus and malware protection software. Also, make sure you’ve updated to the latest version of your apps and software.

 

The latest updates typically contain protection against the most recent threats. It’s no guarantee that hackers can’t get in. Yet it does provide a better moat around your cyber fortress than the last version that didn’t have all the new updates.

 

Don’t forget to update and run protection software on all your devices, including your phone. If your laptop is completely protected, but you buy something on your phone without updating it first, what you did on your computer is irrelevant. Don’t forget your tablets and any other online devices too.

 

Build login muscle

Getting strong is not just key to your physical health – it’s essential for your cyber health too. If your passwords are common or too short or have the same password for multiple sites, you need to build up your passwords.

 

Secure password creation is especially crucial for any website with your personal information, such as banking accounts, investment sites, bookkeeping sites. If you use social media channels for business, make sure you bulk those up as well. 

 

For any highly sensitive website, whether monetary or reputation-based, you should change your password. Generate the most robust password possible.

 

For ultra-secure passwords, use a password manager. These services essentially lock all your passwords and info in a secure vault that is too difficult for hackers to access. You’ll need to remember the one (long, strong) password to get into your “vault,” and that’s it. 

 

Even with a password manager, take additional steps to keep your logins safe. Get two-factor authentication wherever possible. In addition to providing your password, you validate your login with another method. Typically this is a call, text, or email with a special code. 

 

Of course, you’ll need to make sure that the website has your correct information. If you’ve changed your phone number or email address within the past year, update the info first.

 

Connect carefully

It would help if you encrypted (or have your IT guy encrypt) your wireless connection (Wi-Fi) at home. You need to sign in with a security key or password. If you’re using the default setting that your modem or router came with, consider changing them to something of your choosing.

 

Not all public wireless access points are encrypted. Some of them are public, which is why you can access them without a password. When you look at the network in the list, you won’t see the lock symbol next to it. They’re often called “Guest” in the network name. 

 

If that’s the case, you should assume that someone will take whatever data they can while you’re on that network. Do not enter any website, especially one with a login and password, that you think might provide the opportunity for data theft. 

 

If you enter a password for a site that you don’t worry too much about, but you use that passwords for other sites you would be concerned about, you run the risk of a hacker taking that password and using it for your other accounts.

 

Rather than connect to a public network, you can use your mobile phone, depending on your plan, as a hot spot for connecting. That will also secure your communications.

 

Shopping at a particular store? Go directly to their website.

You’ll probably get a lot of sales emails and promotions in your social media feeds. But you cannot trust all of them. Remember that anyone can put up a site or send an email and make it look reasonably professional. 

 

It’s great for small business owners but is also great for hackers. They can make the email appear as though it’s coming from a friend, at least until you look closely at the email sender’s address. Years ago, many hackers didn’t write perfect English, but that is no longer the case.

 

To be on the safe side, type the store’s name directly into your Internet browser rather than clicking on links sent to your email. These emails might come from hackers with malicious intent.

 

When in doubt, delete it out. Don’t click on any link when you haven’t verified the sender.

 

If you’re considering ordering from a site you haven’t used before, check out the reviews first. If there are none of the ones that exist are mostly negative, find a different source. 

 

You could tell them, but then you’d have to kill them

Just kidding! Many online shops have lots of form fields for you to fill out. You only need to fill out the required ones, marked with an asterisk *. The other fields are often just so the business can gather more information about you. 

 

More information helps them target their marketing and sales better. But it can also be a boon to hackers if they get through the store’s security walls. If it’s not necessary for your activity, then leave it blank.

 

And if they require information that you think is inappropriate, go elsewhere. There’s no reason for an online store to request your Social Security number, for example. Keep your information to yourself.

 

Do not speed up checkout

Most websites allow you to store your credit card information online to purchase from them more easily. Yes, it’s much more convenient for you. And also for hackers. Just say no. Disable your one-click ordering.

 

Checking out as a guest is more difficult for hackers to get your credit card information should they get through the store’s online security. It also helps ensure that you’re not making impulse purchases outside your holiday budget. There’s nothing wrong with having to think before you spend!

 

If you’d like to talk to us about the security precautions we take with your information, feel free to give us a call at 619.255.9554 or email us to set up an appointment.

 

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

Why You Need to Clean Out Your Computer Regularly

Why You Need to Clean Out Your Computer Regularly

Depending on how you feel about technology, your computer may or may not spark joy, as Marie Kondo would have it. However, it’s important to clean out your computer from time to time. Just as you clean out your closets and do a spring cleaning.

What parts of the computer should be cleaned?

Both the machine itself, and its inner workings and software.

Make a habit of cleaning your computer physically, following these steps. After you’ve turned it off and unplugged it, of course.

Clean out your computer #1: dust it off and wipe it down weekly.

A soft, dry cloth will do the dusting perfectly well. You can also find special cleaning fluid for your monitor at the store.

 

Regular household cleaners might damage your screen, so just use a soft cloth like microfiber to wipe it. If you’ve got smudges you want to remove, dampen your soft cloth with water (preferably distilled or filtered to avoid streaking) to wipe it.

 

Still have smudges? Mix up a 50/50 blend of distilled water and distilled white vinegar and use that to dampen your cloth. Ammonia may potentially harm the screen, so don’t use commercial glass cleaners as they usually contain ammonia.

 

 If you’ve got a laptop that needs some TLC, wet a clean sponge with water and (mild) dish soap and then wring it out. Use that to wipe the front and back of the laptop, not the screen and laptop inside.

Clean out your computer #2: Clean your keyboard

Turn your keyboard over the trash can and pat it on the back (!) to get rid of crumbs, bits of dirt, hair, etc. If you’ve got some dirt that remains, use a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol or one of the solutions above. When you wipe around the keys, you can prevent them from sticking.

 

You can also get a can of compressed air at most office supply stores and blast out the buildup.

 

If all that isn’t enough, the manufacturer may provide instructions on opening it up so you can clean out the inside.

Clean out your computer #3: Blow dust out of vents, fans, etc.

Compressed air yet once again is your friend. Use a screwdriver to open up the exterior of your desktop, following the manufacturer instructions and making sure the vents and fans are clear of buildup.

 

You might or might not be able to perform the same operation on a laptop, so check the instructions.

 

Clean out your computer #4: Check your surge protectors

You know that power surges can damage your devices. Did you know that one power surge is all it takes to wipe out your surge protector? The light may be on, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually protecting your electronics.

 

Unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure if your surge protector has worn down, unless you purchased one that comes with warning lights. They’re rated in joules. Which means a 1,000-joule surge protector can weather 1,000 joules worth of surge.  If you get one surge of 1,000 joules, your protection is gone. If you get 10 100-joule surges, same thing.

 

If you’ve experienced a major power surge, you should probably replace the protector. A rule of thumb is to get a new one every two years, but that varies. A good way to keep your surge protectors working longer is to unplug devices when you’re not using them.

Do some preventative maintenance on a regular basis for your software.

 

You’ve probably been told to back up your data, and this is very important. You can set up a weekly routine to ensure that if something happens to your computer – it dies, someone spills coffee on it, someone takes the wrong computer at the security checkpoint, or whatever – you haven’t lost the data.

You can use a physical backup such as an external hard drive or a thumb drive. Or use the cloud, in the form of Google Docs or online document storage.

You should also back up your system, not just the data. This usually means selecting a “restore point” (using system restore in Windows) that the computer can roll back to if disaster happens. It’s best to do this on an external drive, because it does require a lot of free space.

We’ve posted some cybersecurity tips, including making sure you have anti-malware software installed, and that you update it when asked. Worms, phishing, hacking and other dangers to your computer mutate all the time. If you don’t update, you’re not protected against the latest threat.

 

Declutter your software.

 

There are a number of ways you can clean up your software.

When you’re not using programs or files on your computer anymore, delete them. This frees up some memory. It ensures your computer doesn’t drown itself in unnecessary data, which slows down its speed. Removing these programs also removes a potential point of entry for hackers.

Clean out your Windows registry, which contains all the details on everything that’s happened on your computer. Make sure you back it up first, in case you make a mistake and have to reinstall the operating system. This isn’t a guaranteed way to make your computer operate more efficiently, but it often does the trick.

Clean out your cookies! Cookies are little text files that apps and browsers install on your computer to make your web browsing experience faster and easier. However, they compromise your privacy because they can be used as spyware. Too many cookies also slow down your system.

It’s a good idea to periodically clear them out: both the text-based cookies and flash cookies. Each browser has a slightly different way of clearing cookies, so follow the instructions for the one(s) that you use.

Run hard drive maintenance. With Windows-based systems this is usually defragmenting and disk cleanup. Your computer might do this automatically, especially if you bought it recently. But you can also run it yourself.

 

We hope you’ve found these computer cleaning tips helpful, and are well on your way to a sparkling PC both inside and out!

 

If you’d like to schedule a financial planning consultation with us to see if your finances need a little TLC, please email us or give us a call at 619.255.9554.

 

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