A recent WhatsApp forward claimed that a popular e-commerce website is offering 99% discount on popular gadgets. The message included a link to the website that looks similar to the original e-commerce website. It could be an attempt to steal your personal information by tricking you into believing that you are getting a great deal. This type of fraud is called phishing. This can also happen over emails, where you get an email that seems to be from an authentic source, but in reality it is not.

A recent survey by cyber security firm McAfee India has revealed that a majority of consumers are willing to take risk while shopping online. The survey had 72% respondents (including 44% who said, “Yes, I would" and 28% who said “probably") admitting they would purchase the same item from one online retailer over another if the item’s price was significantly cheaper, even if they weren’t 100% confident the website was genuine or secure.  At the same time, 74% of the respondents said they consider clicking on unfamiliar websites or emails as dangerous, but do their research before making a purchase. 

The study that was commissioned by McAfee India in October 2018 surveyed 1,017 adults between the ages of 18 and 55, in India. 

The survey has highlighted that a big percentage of those buying products online, particularly during festive sales, do not mind if their details like mobile number, email, residential address and bank account details fall in the wrong hands. 

Cyber criminals can exploit any information, so users should be cautious about what they share on social media platforms, online forums, on websites or via email. Jens Monrad, senior intelligence analyst at FireEye, a cyber security firm, said, “As we rely more on digital communication, our digital footprint has dramatically expanded during the last five years. From a cyber criminal perspective this means that the information can be used in cyber attacks or to appear more trustworthy (by social engineering) or even exploited in extortion attacks."

A recent example of how this information can be used, Monrad said, is that unsolicited emails are being sent to users, where the sender claims to have explicit content, stolen from the victim's computer. In order not to submit the “embarrassing material" to co-workers, family and friends, the victims are being told to pay a fee via cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

The survey also found that many users face financial stress due to the purchases they make during the festive season; 77% of the respondents said they feel some stress about spending during online sales. This could further lead these people towards risky behaviour like using shortcuts to get a good deal. In fact, 55% of the respondents said they check their bank or card statements frequently during the festive sales period.

You do not need to be a cyber security expert to protect yourself while being online. A lot can be dealt with by just being alert. “Today, using the Internet, either for shopping, for work or browsing, requires that the user employs a degree of scepticism and tries to judge if the content they are viewing or receiving via email is legitimate, coming from a trusted source and potentially can be verified in other places or sources," Monrad said. 

It also involves updating softwares on your devices. Having a cyber security product on your devices that offers malware scanning and protection also helps, he said. 

So do not fall for emails and forwards that promise you steep discounts that sound unbelievable. Also, make it a point to report such messages as spam. This could help prevent the spread of such information and keep you and others safe online.

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