Tag Archives: Black Friday

12 Tips for Safer Online Shopping

By Tracey Dowdy

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner. With the prospect of fighting the crowds or waiting in line for hours only to find the item isn’t as advertised – or even worse, sold out – more and more consumers are opting to stay at home and shop online.

Whether this is your first foray into cyber shopping or you’re a seasoned veteran, these 12 tips can ensure your experience is a safe and positive one:

  • Keep your devices up to date. Whether it’s your phone, your PC, your tablet or a laptop, make sure to check frequently for software updates. Security patches are often included in the updates and letting yourself fall behind puts you and your personal information at risk.
  • Make sure you have strong passwords. Using the same password for everything may make it easy to remember but it also makes you vulnerable. Password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, or StickyPassword can help you keep track of multiple passwords and stay secure.
  • Avoid using public computers wherever possible. Typing your passwords or credit card information into a computer at the library or another public location puts you at greater risk of identity theft. Also, use a cellular network or VPN rather than Wi-Fi for an added layer of security.
  • Do your homework. If it’s a retailer you’re not familiar with, do a little research and check out previous customer reviews. There may be some bad mixed in with the good. Exclusively positive or overly enthusiastic reviews may be planted and not from actual customers.
  • Do the math. Take the time to calculate the tax and shipping on top of the quoted purchase price. It may not be a deal if the shipping costs turn out to be excessive. You should also consider the potential cost if the item needs to be returned, particularly if you’re shopping overseas. I stopped shopping at several of my favorite online retailers while living in Canada because of the extra charges if the item had to pass through Customs.
  • Look for “https://” in the browser. The “s” is the key – it indicates a secure browser. Sites may also include an image of a lock or use an icon called a trust indicator or security seal to show there is independent third party verification.
  • Stay a step ahead. Actually, stay two steps ahead by using two-step verification to add an additional layer of protection beyond login and password information.
  • Don’t store your card information on the retailer’s website. Although it is definitely more convenient to allow Amazon or The Gap to keep your card number on file, you decrease your risk of identity theft by entering it each time you make a purchase.
  • Don’t share more than necessary. Often retailers will ask for additional information for their own marketing purposes. Only complete the required fields – there’s no need to offer any unnecessary information.
  • Use payment methods with buyer protection. I prefer to use my debit card since it’s virtual cash, but many debit cards lack the buyer protection of a credit card if something goes wrong. Talk to your bank about single-use credit card numbers that are unique to each purchase. The number is tied to your original card, but a one-use number is generated for a single transaction.
  • Be especially vigilant when using mobile devices. Turn off Bluetooth; use cellular data instead of Wi-Fi; make sure you set a password, pattern or PIN lock on your smartphone; and ensure your screen locks after a short period of inactivity to protect that personal information.
  • Finally, don’t let down your guard. Let common sense be your guide: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps to Help You Through the Holiday Season

By Tracey Dowdy

The holiday season is upon us and to make sure that light up ahead is the light at the end of the tunnel and not the train coming at you, here are a few apps to help you enjoy and not endure the Holiday season.

Getting organized is essential to successfully navigating the holidays.

  • EasilyDo organizes everything from do-do lists to travel. Get weather and travel alerts, link to your bank accounts, email, Facebook, LinkedIn…it’s like having a personal assistant in the palm of your hand. You can track packages, pay bills, even get directions with estimated travel time for events in your calendar. (Free – iOS, Android)
  • Slice not only tracks what you bought, when you bought it, and when it will be delivered, but it will also let you know if the item goes on sale and help you get your money back. You’ll even be notified if the item is recalled by the Consumer Safety Board. Slice organizes your receipts for easy returns and tracks spending to help you stay on budget. (Free – iOS, Android)

Speaking of budget, finances are one of the top stressors for the holidays. Whether it’s purchasing gifts, travel costs, or hosting family and friends, it’s easy to end up over budget without really knowing how you got there.

  • Mint offers a comprehensive, real-time look at all your account balances. It sends alerts if you’re about to go over budget, organizes transactions, and it can even send push notifications about your bills. (Free – iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
  • Snagajob is a great resource for finding seasonal work to supplement your budget. Create a profile and upload your resume to apply for jobs directly from your phone for work in retail, restaurants, and customer service. Search by location, industry, job title or company and you’ll receive daily alerts that match your specifications. You can even upload a 30 second introductory video to help you stand out from the crowd. (Free – iOS, Android)
  • Black Friday sends you constant updates on Thanksgiving sales and lets you create a wish list to save all your favorite deals in one place. You can organize deals by store, compare prices, and sort items by keywords, store or price. (Free – iOS, Android)

There are more apps to help with food or recipes for the holidays than you can shake a spatula at, but two of my favorites are from Bon Appetit and Food.com.

  • Thanksgiving: A Bon Appetit Manual manages to be both gourmet and rookie cook friendly. The app offers step by step instructions paired with photos so you know exactly what you’re doing. If planning and preparing is overwhelming, switch to Menu View and choose from pre-selected menus. (Free – iOS, Android)
  • Food.com not only has a massive recipe base which is great for all year round, it can help you create a meal from whatever you have on hand – great for using up those holiday leftovers. (Free – iOS)

Time with family and friends during the holidays is priceless, which is a good thing because Holiday travel can cost a fortune. Luckily, there are ways to get around blowing your budget.

  • Gas Buddy lets you find the gas stations nearest to you offering the cheapest gas prices. Content is user-created and for every report you post you can earn points toward prizes. (Free – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry)
  • Waze uses your phone’s GPS feature to find the quickest, most efficient routes and avoid traffic due to congestion, construction or accidents. Users submit reports on traffic or road conditions so you always know what ahead. Waze also lets you know where to fill up for the best price. (Free – iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
  • TripIt Travel Organizer lets you organize every aspect of your trip in one place. Forward confirmation emails (automatic if you use Gmail or Google Calendar) from airlines or hotels and TripIt will create an itinerary for you so you can be prepared each step of the way. You can get directions, check weather conditions, link to your calendar and share your trip plans via social media. (Free – iOS, Android)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.