KINGSTON, Jamaica – As many Jamaicans skip the traditional brick-and-mortar stores and conduct shopping and other business online, particularly doing the holiday season, the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) is providing tips and advice to help people operate safely in cyberspace.
Information Technology manager at the CAC, Christopher Martin, said people should ensure that the device that they are using is secure.
“Whether it's a laptop, mobile device, desktop, tablet, you want to make sure that the Operating System (OS), the applications, are up-to-date and are secure. From time to time the manufacturer will post updates, so you'll want to ensure that the information is current,” he said.
He further advises that consumers should ensure that the web browser being used to shop is also up-to-date.
“So, you want to make certain that the website you will be using or accessing is secure. You want to look for that protocol…that is the HTTPS. In time pass, it was the HTTP, but with the challenges that are happening with that …. a more secure protocol has been placed on it. So please look for the HTTPS, which gives you an added security,” Martin said.
Consumers are also being instructed to look for the padlock icon next to the site name.
Martin urged consumers to exercise caution when making purchases online using free Wi-Fi as they could be vulnerable to hackers who are also on the same service.
“Wi-Fi in a number of homes [or] residential areas, are open. You may see persons at the corner with their devices and they're laughing and chatting, and possibly they're on your system at home. So, you want to speak to experts to ensure that your Wi-Fi device is secure,” he said.
“Oftentimes, if somebody knows how to access your system, they can go on your Wi-Fi and lock you out. While you may use a public Wi-Fi for information, be very careful how you do it for transactional purposes. If you must use it, use what is called a virtual private network (VPN). So, you would want to install it on your device and when you are doing your transaction over a public Wi-Fi, you execute that,” he recommends.
The Information Technology manager also stresses the importance of website legitimacy, noting that people should only purchase items from websites they are familiar with or are established.
“There are new ones that are popping up all over the place and people are not familiar with them. There is no contact information for you to call or street address or registration of that website,” he points out, noting that people should steer clear of these sites.
Martin further urged caution when buying products through social media pages, noting that if something appears “too good to be true, it probably is.”
“If needs be, pass it around with some friends and family, ask questions. There's nothing wrong in asking questions. It means that you have serious concerns and you want to ensure that you are getting value for your money,” he said.
Martin is further advising people to sign out of their accounts when they are through conducting transactions online.
“You have a tendency where persons go on their browser to do their banking or they go online to do business and they do not close out of that transaction. Sometimes what they do is close the browser but that does that close you out. If somebody else opens up that browser, your information will still be open and available. [You] have to be careful of that,” Martin said.
He is also imploring consumers to guard their personal information online.
He noted that “there are times when you're filling out a form online and they ask you for all and sundry, but [it] is the core data that they really need. That is, you'll see an asterisk that tells you what is necessary; fill out those spaces only and not the others. That is added information that is not necessarily for them.”
The information manager is also encouraging persons to always look out for fraudulent activities, especially when they are making purchases or conducting online banking.
“You have to get involved and check your business transactions or accounting every other day or perhaps once a week, because there are times when you are being hacked and you don't know,” he said.
“When you're hacked in terms of your bank, you will lose everything whether it's $100,000 or $1 million. It also affects your credit rating …a number of persons are not [aware] that Jamaica now has a credit company that rates you, so be very careful of that,” he cautioned.
In addition, people are being encouraged to track purchases made online so that they know what is happening and can report any online theft.
Martin said it is important for people to make a report to the police if they have been hacked or scammed.
“It builds a case against the [hacker or scammer] when they are caught and that will strengthen the case against them. Also, go on the Jamaica Constabulary Force page and other security pages [for information] … so that in the event of something happening, you are able to deal with it,” he said.
The CAC is the national agency responsible for consumer advocacy. For further information, individuals can call 876- 876-906-8568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.