A lot of us in today’s connected world use online shopping for its convenience, ease of use, and extensive choices. Online deals and discounts are practically always better than those found at the storefront. Shipping is quick to the point where the same-day deliveries are possible.
Online shopping isn’t without its risks, however. Phishing scams, identity theft, and credit card theft are among the most common dangers of online shopping, while simultaneously being some of the easiest scams to pull of of cybercriminals (while being extremely profitable).
To protect and safeguard your information and yourself when you go online to make a purchase, here are some important tips that help ensure you have a safe shopping experience.
- Enter correct URLs. Hackers often lure unsuspecting online shoppers to alternative domains that look similar to the real shopping website. They do this to trick people into entering personal information. Look twice after entering the website’s URL, before hitting enter.
- Use secure sites. Secure websites are encrypted, offering better security for your transactions. Web addresses that start with “https” in the address bar and a yellow padlock logo to the right of the web browser address bar mean that the website is encrypted. Double-click on the lock to see a digital certificate of the website. Review these certificates on unfamiliar sites.
- Don not use the same passwords. Avoid using your Social security number or passwords to email and bank accounts as part of the buying process with online retailers.
- Leave suspicious websites immediately. Use your discretion. If anything looks funny or fishy, avoid clicking on the site’s buttons, do not run content or download software from the suspicious website.
- Create “strong” passwords. For tips on creating strong passwords, take a look at our secure password guide.
- Use multiple passwords. Choose different passwords for different online retailers, personal emails, and online banking accounts. It may be cumbersome to remember the many different passwords, but look at it this way: if a hacker cracks one password, he won’t have access to all your online accounts if you use different passwords.
- Be proactive and read site reviews before making any purchases. Price Grabber compares prices and users’ comments on retail websites. Google Product Search, slickdeals.net and dealnews.com monitor retailers with frequently contributed user forums that discuss site reliability, possible issues and deals.
- Do not store personal information on an online retail website. Retailers will offer convenience and better deals, but many customer databases are breached by identity thieves. It’s simply not worth the risk – although there are data breach response firms around – they will not be able to get your data back once it has been compromised.
- Look into return and privacy policies before making purchases. If there’s any doubt about fairness, find another site.
- Be wary of phishing scams that include website links advertising incredible deals. Don’t click on them. Type the link directly into your browser.
- Use credit cards, not debit cards. Use credit cards with low limits to minimize the damage if a thief takes over the account. Or, use a “one-time” credit card number from payment processors such as PayPal.
- Never link a bank account to an online pay service such as PayPal. Hackers could break into the PayPal account and drain money from the linked bank account.
- Avoid “additional offers.” These services are sometimes offered for a low initial fee that later increases to a high, recurring charge on your credit card. Also, they’ll share your contact information with spammers.
- Save records of all purchases either in an electronic document or on paper. Save records digitally with the free Adobe PDF print driver or PDFCreator.
- Secure mobile phones used for shopping. Back them up regularly and enable security features such as power on password and inactivity time lock. Learn how to clear browser caches and, if available, enable data encryption and antivirus applications.
- Install anti-malware software and constantly update antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall software on your computer or mobile device. Update its operating system and Internet browser with the latest security patches.
- Turn off your computer when you finish your browsing or shopping session. It’ll surprise you to know how many malicious hackers’ plans are thwarted because your computer is turned off when you aren’t using it.