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Safe Online Shopping in the New Year: A Guide to Navigating January Sales Safely


As we usher in the New Year, the allure of January sales presents both opportunities and risks.

This article discusses how the post-holiday period, often characterised by a quest for deals, can

impact our online shopping behaviors and increase our vulnerability to cyber threats.

This time, marked by a mix of excitement for new beginnings and the weariness from holiday

expenditures, can lead to hasty, less cautious online activities. It's a period when our usual

vigilance may wane, making us more susceptible to sophisticated cyber scams, including

phishing attempts and deceptive online deals and a heightened risk of fraud. Ofcom's recent

findings reveal that nearly 43 million UK adults have encountered suspected online scams,

highlighting the pervasive nature of this issue.

The allure of January sales, combined with the aftermath of holiday spending, can lead to

hurried and less cautious online shopping decisions. Unfortunately, this makes consumers

prime targets for cybercriminals. Ofcom's research indicates a significant financial impact on

victims, with one in five losing over £1,000 to scams.

Moreover, the mental health toll of these scams is notable. A substantial percentage of victims

report immediate negative effects on their mental health, especially those who suffer financial

losses. This underscores the need for heightened vigilance and awareness during the January

sales period to protect not just our finances, but also our well-being. So, what can we do to

protect ourselves and our businesses? This article explores the subject further and gives advice

and guidance on how to stay safe during periods of heightened scamming attempts.

We’ll be looking at:

1. Mental Health and Decision Making

2. Common Online Threats

3. Workplace Risks and New Year Sales

4. Employer Strategies for Cyber Safety

Mental Health and Decision Making:

Post-holiday blues and the excitement of New Year sales can affect our judgment. This period

of financial and emotional recovery can lead to hurried decisions, making us targets for online

scams.

This phase often involves coping with the contrast between the festive cheer just passed and

the return to routine, which can further cloud our ability to discern legitimate offers from

deceptive ones. Our lowered emotional resilience during this transition period makes it a prime

time for scammers to strike, exploiting our desire for good deals and quick decisions.

Our lowered emotional resilience during this transition period makes it a prime time for

scammers to strike, exploiting our desire for good deals and quick decisions. January can be

particularly challenging for mental health, as individuals may experience feelings of sadness or

depression after the holidays. This can impair judgment and decision-making skills, making us

more prone to impulse buying or less cautious in evaluating the legitimacy of online deals and

emails, thus increasing the risk of falling victim to scams.

Common Online Threats:

The January sales period is ripe for digital scams, including sophisticated phishing attempts,

fake discount websites, and identity theft. These scams are designed to exploit our eagerness

to find the best deals.

Scammers may use this time to launch new types of frauds, taking advantage of the latest

trends and technology. This period also sees a rise in malware attacks hidden in seemingly

harmless discount emails or online ads, further endangering our personal and financial

information.

Common online threats include:

● Phishing Emails and Messages: Disguised as enticing sale promotions or urgent alerts,

aiming to steal personal and financial information.

● Fake Shopping Websites: Mimicking legitimate retailers, these sites offer incredible

deals to lure customers into sharing credit card details.

● Social Media Scams: Advertisements or direct messages on social platforms promoting

fake deals or contests.

● Gift Card Fraud: Scammers posing as retailers offering discounted or free gift cards.

● Malware and Ransomware: Embedded in email attachments or links, this software can

access or lock personal data.

● Imposter Scams: Fraudsters impersonating customer service agents to extract personal

details.

● Overpayment Scams: Fraudulent buyers overpaying for items with a fake check and

requesting a refund of the excess amount.

● Auction Site Scams: Fake listings or sellers not delivering products after payment.

● Counterfeit Products: Selling low-quality knock-offs of popular items.

● Subscription Traps: Hidden fees or continuous charges after a free trial or purchase.

Workplace Risks and New Year Sales:

Using work devices for personal shopping during sales increases the risk of exposing corporate

networks to cyber threats. Phishing emails, masquerading as incredible offers, can be

particularly dangerous if accessed through work emails.

For example, clicking on a malicious link in such an email can install malware on the network,

leading to data breaches or system compromises. Additionally, entering personal details on a

fraudulent site can inadvertently reveal sensitive corporate information or login credentials,

further endangering the company's security infrastructure.

Giving login details to a corporate account can put the entire company at risk in several ways. If

a scammer gains access to one account, they can potentially access sensitive company data,

including financial information, customer databases, and proprietary secrets.

This could lead to data breaches, financial losses, and damage to the company's reputation.

Once inside the network, the scammer could deploy malware or ransomware, affecting the

entire organisation's operations, compromising system security, and potentially halting business

activities.

Employer Strategies for Cyber Safety:

● Awareness Training: Regularly update employees on cybersecurity threats, emphasising

the importance of not using work devices for personal shopping, especially during high-

risk periods like sales. Include training on recognising phishing emails and safe internet

practices.

● Security Software: Employ robust security tools like Avast, and ensure they are up-to-

date on all work devices. Consider tools that offer real-time threat detection and

automatic updates for optimal protection against evolving cyber threats.

● Network Monitoring: Implement continuous monitoring of network activities. Use

advanced tools to detect unusual patterns that could indicate a breach or misuse of

company resources. Regular audits can also help identify vulnerabilities.

● Strong Authentication Policies: Implement multi-factor authentication for accessing

company networks, especially for remote workers, to add an extra layer of security.

● VPN for Secure Connections: Encourage or mandate the use of a Virtual Private

Network (VPN) for employees working remotely to secure their internet connection.

● Regular Software Updates: Ensure that all software, including operating systems and

applications, are regularly updated to patch security vulnerabilities.

● Data Access Management: Control and monitor access to sensitive company data.

Implement least privilege access policies to minimize the risk of data breaches.

● Incident Response Plan: Develop and regularly update an incident response plan to

quickly address any security breaches or threats.

While January sales are a great opportunity to snag deals, staying cyber-safe requires

awareness and caution. By understanding the risks and adopting protective measures, both

individuals and employers can enjoy a safer online shopping experience.

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