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UTSA's Cyber Security Center Has Shopping Advice For Cyber Monday Purchases

Eileen Pace
Texas Public Radio

Black Friday is right after Thanksgiving - even starting Thursday night at some stores - and then soon after comes Cyber Monday, a multi-Billion dollar day of sales over the Internet; that one day is also a big opportunity for cyber thieves to take advantage of weak links in online security.

You may be focused on turkey and football games, but a quick lesson in cyber security will give you and the family something different to talk about over dinner other than politics.

Last year, Cyber Monday made the leap from a “large” shopping day to a frenzy that can be called “huge.”

"In 2010, there was a measure in the United States of $1 billion of commerce on Cyber Monday online. In 2011, it went up 25 percent to $1.25 billion in one 24-hour period," said Larry Thompson, associate director for UTSA’s Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security.

Thompson said the biggest mistakes shoppers make is believing an offer that is too good to be true, or giving out too much information. And, when sending credit card info over the Internet, there is a way to make sure the payment site is encrypted.

"You should see that little lock, and when you're on a website you want to see "https," warns Thompson.

Both are necessary; Thompson said that if a site says it has an https address but there is no icon of a padlock - to the left or the right of the address bar - the seller might not be legitimate.Thompson also warned against using debit cards to make online purchases.

"The little Mastercard symbol on my debit card doesn't do anything to protect me?" I asked him.

"No, it does not," replied Thompson. "Because if you do a transfer from your bank account, the moneys' gone. With a debit card, it's an actual transfer of funds from your money. If you do that and the money goes outside the U.S., it's gone."

If you are purchasing several items, check your accounts against a handwritten or other record of your purchases.

Credit Eileen Pace / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Larry Thompson shows TPR's Eileen Pace how to find clues that a website is safe.

So I asked if he suggests that customers write down all purchases on a piece of paper.

"Absolutely," said Thompson. "And actually, easier than that, whenever you buy something, it will come up with a receipt. Print out the receipt. And if you're not near a printer when you're buying, take out a piece of paper and write the purchase down."

CIAS, which is a National Center of Academic Excellence designated by the Dept. of Homeland Security and the NSA, teaches computer security to governments, corporations, small businesses, NGOs, and individuals. Last week, educators taught a course to residents and small business owners in San Antonio.

CIAS has additional flyers on cyber safe shopping and cyber security hygiene on its website, then click on Resources.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.