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By 11 February 2022 | Categories: feature articles

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Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest retail days of the year. According to Statista, the average spend per person in South Africa is R700. In short, big hearts equal big business. But not only, says Stephen Osler, Co-Founder and Business Development Director at Nclose, for the retailers. Valentine’s Day is a great day for cybercriminals.

“Like many other celebrations or festive events, Valentine’s Day often sees shoppers let their guards down as they hunt for sales and deals,” he explains. “They click on phishing links, fall for email scams, and get spoofed by malware ads that look like normal adverts. Online shopping, for retailers and shoppers alike, can be a minefield over this time because cybercriminals use it to their advantage.”

While some scams and successful hacks are the result of exuberant shoppers missing the warning signs, many are incredibly clever. The myth that spam emails or fake websites use poor language and dodgy syntax is just that – a myth. Cybercriminals are smart, and they rely on people not being 100% on their guard to catch them out. One of the ways in which they do this is by using very specific keywords like Valentine and Chocolate to populate legitimate-looking websites. People then click on these sites to see what they have to offer and are then lured into a variety of different types of scams – the most concerning being the theft of their payment and personal information credentials.

“Perhaps the most popular form of hack is the phishing scam,” says Osler. “These fake websites are so well designed that people move through the entire purchase process, thinking they’re buying a legitimate gift, and instead hand their information over to the criminals. Instead of a romantic surprise, people get a hack as a gift instead.”

Alongside fake websites, phishing scams are a very popular tool for targeting online shoppers. Often, real shopping websites and retailers are spoofed – their customer base receives a very realistic email from what looks like a genuine retailer, only it’s a dummy account that’s using the retailer’s database to con its customers. These emails usually offer shoppers fantastic discounts, discounts that really are too good to be true, but are easily mistaken for the real deal. Shoppers that click on them are then either directed to a fake website and their credentials are stolen, or they end up downloading malicious software such as a malware or ransomware.

“Another problem for retailers specifically is malware attacks on point-of-sale devices,” says Osler. “When a device has been compromised, the hackers simply sit on the system and siphon all the credit card data as payments are made. This puts both the retailer and the shopper at risk and can often sit undetected for long periods of time.”

The only way to walk away from a Valentine’s Day that you want to forget is to turn security into a mantra. As the day approaches, watch out for fake e-greeting cards, extraordinary discount emails from retailers, and unexpected attachments, even from people you know. Check every email address and signature to make sure that the email is not a spoof, and make sure that the web address that the email is directing you to is a legitimate website. The latter rule also applies to online shopping – take a long hard look at the website address before entering in any personal information.

“Retailers need to invest into strong application security solutions to ensure that every device, touchpoint and point of sale is protected,” concludes Osler. “If they take the time to invest into robust security protections and protocols, they not only protect their customers but their own internal systems and information.”

Finally, as online fingers do the walking through the digital sales, make sure that you practice good safety hygiene. Don’t hand out login information, beware of sites asking you to reset your password, check every email, ensure your online stores are reliable, and install antivirus software as an added layer of protection. The reality is that cybercrime is at an all-time high, and the criminals are smart, capable and determined. So don’t give them the sweets this Valentine’s Day, stay secure.

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