This growth is due, in part, to the rising popularity of online 'shopping holidays' like Cyber Monday, which is celebrated annually the Monday after Thanksgiving and accounts for more online sales than any other day of the year. Last year, Cyber Monday sales reached $1.46 billion - a record for online spending in one day.
Hampering celebration of this stress-free alternative to in-store shopping is the rapid growth of cybercrime. Cyber thieves are to blame for $113 billion in consumer financial losses in the last 12 months. That's enough money to host the London 2012 Olympics nearly 10 times over. An equally alarming statistic is the rising average loss per victim, which doubled from 2012 to 2013 to $298.
Despite the aforementioned dangers, many online shoppers are unaware of the risks associated with online shopping and don't believe they'll become one of the 556 million annual victims. Forty-eight percent of smartphone and tablet users do not take even the basic precautions such as using passwords, installing security software or backing up files from their mobile devices.
'As the popularity of online shopping continues to skyrocket, so do the opportunities for hackers to steal personal information,' says Bob Bunge, professor in the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University and consultant at the William Factory Small Business Incubator in Tacoma, Wash. 'Online shoppers need to be aware of the risks associated with e-commerce and take proactive steps to protect themselves.'
Bunge offers the following tips for consumers to protect themselves from cyber attacks:
* Boost password strength: Weak and ineffective passwords enable identity theft. The first rule of password construction is to go long. Short passwords can be uncovered by high-speed programs built to steal password combinations.
* Ditch the debit cards: Debit cards are the least secure option for e-commerce purchases. PayPal and credit cards offer much better consumer protections including dispute resolution and fraud prevention.
* Use the most secure network possible: Wired networks are always preferable to wireless. If a wired network is not an option, make sure to use a secure wireless network that requires an encryption key. Be especially wary of accessing public Wi-Fi services at places like airports and coffee shops.
* Don't store personal finance information: Don't store credit card details online. Storing any payment information online exponentially increases the probability of a cyber attack.
* Shop on reputable sites: Scammers often begin fake URL's with names of reputable companies to lure consumers in. To avoid accidently clicking on an infected site, look for the SSL certificate and ensure the site starts with https:// and has a padlock icon.
'Cyber Monday is the Super Bowl of online theft,' says Bunge. 'While consumers should follow these tips all year long, they should remain extra vigilant during the holidays to avoid the increased risk of falling victim to cybercrime.'