9 Tips for Secure Shopping Online
As we approach the holiday season, we encourage extra mindfulness when it comes to online shopping.
There are some simple precautions that will make your online purchases more secure, including using reputable third-party pay services (like PayPal) whenever possible, always logging out of sites after you’ve completed a purchase and selecting one credit card for all online purchases to limit exposure.
Here are 9 tips for staying safe online, so you can start checking off items on that holiday shopping list:
1. Use familiar/trusted websites – Start at a trusted site rather than shopping with a search engine. Search results lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip off. Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example).
2. Look for the padlock icon – Never buy anything from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You’ll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with “HTTPS” instead of just “HTTP”. An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar, depending on your browser. Never give anyone your credit card over email.
3. Don’t provide all of your info– No online shopping store needs your social security number or your birthday to do business. However, combined with your credit card number, your social security number and other identification numbers can do a lot of damage. When possible, default to giving the least amount of information.
4. Check your bank statements – Don’t wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly during the holiday season to review statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Make sure you don’t see any fraudulent charges. If you do see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, pay the bill only once you know all your charges are accurate.
5. Protect your devices – You can protect against malware with regular updates to your operating system, browsers and software. Software companies add security updates along with every upgrade released. Installing updates as soon as they are released can help you better protect your devices against malware. You should also run a reputable, anti-virus product on your home PC or laptop. This will help prevent your device from becoming infected with malware.
6. Use strong passwords – It’s always important to utilize strong passwords, but it’s never more important than when banking and shopping online. Make sure your passwords are unique for each website, contain a healthy mix of letters, numbers and symbols when allowed. Passwords should not be easy to guess (like your last name or birthday). Use a password protected spreadsheet or secure app to store your passwords. When possible, set up multi-factor authentication for additional security.
7. Avoid shopping on public devices – It should go without saying that it’s a bad idea to use a public computer to make purchases. If you must, remember to log out every time you use a public computer, even if you were just checking email. Avoid entering your credit card and expiration date on websites in public, even if you’re using your own devices. By doing so you’re giving onlookers the chance to steal your information. At the very least, double check no one is looking and be as discreet as possible.
Additionally, don’t use publicly available charging cords or USB ports to charge your devices. Publicly available power outlets are generally fine, but the cords or ports could be used to deliver malware to your phone.
8. Avoid shopping via public Wi-Fi – Avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots – like the ones at coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc., for online shopping. If you do use a public Wi-Fi hotspot, be sure to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so others cannot intercept your communications. As an alternative, stick to the mobile network and create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot with your phone.
9. Keep an eye out for obvious scams – Stick to the source when you buy gift cards; scammers like to auction off gift cards on sites like eBay with little or no funds on them. Some scams offer of a free product with purchase, like an iPad or even holiday job offers. Many of these “offers” will surface on social media or phishing emails. Be wary if you get a message from friend claiming he or she has been robbed, especially a friend overseas looking for money to be wire transferred, unless you absolutely can confirm it by talking to him or her personally. Skepticism in most cases can go a long way toward saving you from a stolen card number.
Trust Your Judgement
If you’re shopping online and something seems fishy, it probably is. Trust your judgement or ask for a second opinion before submitting your credit card or other personally identifying information online. No purchase, no matter how great of a deal, is worth the risk of identity theft.
While following these guidelines won’t completely eliminate the chance of becoming a victim of cybercrime, they can help you avoid risky situations and protect yourself against identity theft.