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Don’t let the Grinch get your data
Expert urges caution when shopping online
grinch data
Illustration by Hugo Gonzalez, Great Bend Tribune.

There are more online shoppers than ever during this pandemic year, which makes this the perfect time to step up your cyber security and web awareness. Whether shopping, donating to a worthwhile cause or posting on social media, experts offer several safety tips. The Great Bend Tribune turned to Michelle R. Kaiser, chief information officer at Barton Community College, for some timely advice.

It makes sense to be cautious this time of year, or during times of need, Kaiser said. “Many cybercriminals take advantage in the wake of disasters or holiday shopping.”

She recommends regular preventive care; keep your devices and software up to date. And when not at home, practice safe surfing. “Do not use unsecured public WiFi. Using public WiFi that is not protected allows criminals to steal your information,” she said.

“You have to be suspicious of any unexpected links in email or texts or social media that ask you to make an action, such as entering your password or installing files or going to sites you are not familiar with,” Kaiser added.

U.S. spenders have already spent $22 billion while shopping online between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10, according to Check Point Security Software. And, on Giving Tuesday, which was Dec. 1, over a billion dollars would go to worthwhile causes, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Holiday shopping for digital elves

Santa’s workshop is full of the tapping of keyboards this year, the Better Business Bureau reports. If you’re among the millions doing a lot of online shopping, keep these tips in mind as you go sledding through the online specials:

• Lookalikes – No, this is not a reference to Santa’s “helpers” in malls and stores. These lookalikes are phony websites designed by scammers to make you think they are trusted retailer sites. Lookalike sites are easy to create. Check out their web address, contact information and customer service numbers to be sure you haven’t been fooled. 

• Security – Check any unfamiliar business out at for their rating and customer reviews. Any page you are interacting with should be secure. The web address should start with HTTPS://. The “s” means “secure,” and if the “s” is missing, don’t trust that site.

• Update antivirus software – The closest thing to a vaccine for online viruses is updated software. Don’t ignore those notifications that an update is needed. 

• Price-check in advance – “Checking it twice” and early is advisable. Offers of the “best price anywhere” are not always accurate. Get ahead of the game by researching the going price on items.

• Use reward and loyalty programs – This includes whatever reward your credit card may offer for its use. These can add up quickly to your benefit.

• Use your credit card online – Debit cards don’t provide the same protections as credit cards. A future dispute over a purchase is much better handled if you paid with a credit card.

• Return policies are important – Read and understand the retailer’s policy because special deals may be different. Get gift receipts and keep copies of all records regarding online purchases – emails, texts and messages.

• Beware of phishing Grinches – Unsolicited emails, texts, calls and letters could be a scammer Grinch trying to ruin your holiday. They may offer a “free gift,” for instance, or tell of a “delivery problem.” They may be trying to get your personal information and steal your identity.

Wise giving for wise men and women

Keep the spirit of giving (online) alive with these donation tips, also from the Better Business Bureau:

• Check out a charity at That is BBB’s website for researching charitable organizations. BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance has a strict set of 20 standards it uses to evaluate charities. Watch out for groups that don’t disclose any information.

• Beware of name similarities. Know the exact name of the charity you wish to give to and watch carefully for slight variations.

• Read their website carefully. Look for their mission, programs, measurable goals and verifiable criteria of their accomplishments and finances.

• Watch out for on-the-spot requests for donations. There’s never a reason for instant giving. Responsible charities will welcome your gift in a day or two. 

• Emotional appeals are suspicious. Do your research first. Don’t give in to pressure.

• Check the charity out at Charity Watch and Charity Navigator sites.

• Research their tax status. Make sure your donation is tax deductible. Go to to check them out.

• Shop wisely and give wisely throughout the year. For other questions or concerns, contact the Better Business Bureau by calling 800-856-2417 or visit