Cyber Monday came and went, and millions of people shopped online for the best deals. And as the holidays approach, millions more will go online to buy holiday gifts for loved ones.

There are many benefits to shopping online — it can help you avoid crowds during the busy holiday season. And with the emergence of a new COVID variant, shopping online will help more people stay safe.

But unfortunately, the increase in online shopping also leads to more cybercrime. And if you don’t know what to watch out for, it’s easy to get taken advantage of.

Cybercrime is at its peak during the holidays

Thanksgiving is over, and the holidays are in full swing — which means cybercrime is also at its highest point. The period between Christmas and New Year’s is the peak time for cybercrime.

As e-commerce sales pick up, there are more opportunities for criminals to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Phishing is still one of the biggest scams consumers need to be on the lookout for.

Scammers will often send phishing emails that are meant to look like legitimate retail brands. But in reality, these emails are designed to either steal your information or infect your computer with malware.

Charity imposter scams are another problem that emerges during the holidays. Online scammers will create fake charities — or impersonate real ones — in an attempt to steal your money.

How to protect yourself from online scams

The best way to keep yourself safe this year is to know the warning signs and take a few simple steps to protect yourself. Here are four steps the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recommends everyone follow.

Use multi-factor authentication

Implementing multi-factor authentication is the best way to protect your online accounts, especially any financial accounts. When you log into those accounts, the software will prompt you to take an additional step to verify your identity.

For instance, the software may text you a security code that you have to enter. Multi-factor authentication works because even if an unauthorized user figures out your password, they still can’t gain access to your account.

Make sure your software is up-to-date

You want to make sure your mobile phone, tablet, and computer are safe to use. You can do this by turning on automatic updates for your software. Software updates include the most recent security features and ensure your devices stay protected. It’s also a good idea to use some type of antivirus software on laptops and desktop computers.

Cybercriminals often target consumers by sending emails that are disguised to look like your favorite retailers. But these emails will either steal your personal information or infect your computer with malware.

That’s why you should always think twice before clicking on any links you receive. If you’re not sure if the email is legitimate, you can type the URL into your browser instead.

Choose strong passwords

And finally, you should choose strong passwords for all of your accounts. Strong passwords use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

And make sure you use different passwords for each of your accounts. That way, if one of your passwords is involved in a data breach, you minimize your exposure.