There’s every reason in the world to shop online. The selection is mind-boggling. The bargains are there. Shipping is fast. The shopping is secure and even returns are easy obviously, with the right retailer. All in all, shopping has never been easier or more convenient for consumers.
But with all comes the fear of getting attacked by bad guys who are out there waiting to clinch on. Many people have experienced a cyber attack like malware, credit card fraud, or ransomware at some point in time.
Stay calm. While somewhat alarming, these threats should not keep you from shopping online. You simply need to use some common sense and follow practical advice. Here are basic guidelines; use them and you can shop with confidence as you check off items on that holiday shopping list.
Use Familiar Websites
Always start at a trusted site. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drive past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off. We all know that big names like Amazon carry everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Target to Best Buy to Kohls. Beware of sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, sales on these sites might look enticing, but that’s how they trick you into giving up your info.
Always Look for the Lock
Never ever I mean ever buy anything online using your credit card 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 to the left of the URL in the address bar or the status bar down below it depends on what type of browser you are using. HTTPS is pretty standard now even on non-shopping sites, enough that Google Chrome flags any page without the extra S as “not secure.” So a site without it should stand out even more.
Protect Your Computer
Hackers don’t sit around and wait for you to give them the data. Sometimes they give you a little something extra to help things along. You need to protect your computer & data against malware with regular updates to your antivirus program. In fact, it would be better to pay for a full-blown security suite, which will have antivirus software, but also will fight spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites. Remember, it’s not enough to just have it installed. Make sure your anti-malware tools are always up to date. Otherwise, they can let in any new threats, and there are always new threats.
Avoid Public Terminals
It’s pretty common for us to use our own laptop while we are out at some shop or coffee shop. It’s one thing to hand over a credit card to get swiped at the checkout, but when you have to enter the credit card information on a website while sitting in a public cafe, you’re giving over-the-shoulder snooper plenty of time to see the goods. You must think like a gangster, which is to sit in the back facing the door and use sites that you trust that already have your credit card stored, so you don’t have to pull it out for more than a latte.
Create Strong Password
A strong password is the main key. It’s never more important than when banking and shopping online. Always make sure that you create the uncrackable passwords. Our old tips for creating a unique password can come in handy during a time of year when shopping around probably means creating new accounts on all sorts of e-commerce sites.
But even your perfect password isn’t perfect. The smarter move: use a password manager to create uncrackable passwords for you. It’ll also keep track of them and enter them, so you don’t have to think about it.
Oversharing can be Dangerous
No online shopping site needs your Social Security number or your birthday to do business. However, if crooks get them and your credit card number, they can do a lot of damage. The more scammers know, the easier it is to steal your identity. When possible, default to giving up as little personal data as possible. Even major sites get breached.
There’s no real need to be any more nervous about shopping on a mobile device than online. Simply use apps provided directly by the retailers, like Amazon, Target, and Kohls. Use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly, without going to the store or the website.
Skip the Card, Use the Phone
Paying for items using your smartphone is pretty standard these days while shopping in-store, and is actually even more secure than using your credit card. Using a mobile payment app like Apple Pay generates a one-use authentication code for the purchase that no one else could ever steal or use again. Plus, you’re avoiding card skimmers and you don’t even need to take your credit card with you if you only go places that accept phone payments. Many an app will now accept payment using Apple Pay and Google Pay, like Groupon, Starbucks, Airbnb, Staples, Ticketmaster, and many others.
If you’re wary of a site, perform your due-diligence. Google is full of retailer reviews. Put companies through the filter before you provide your credit card information. Having said that, online reviews can also be gamed. If you see nothing but positive feedback and can’t tell if the writers are legitimate customers, follow your instincts. If nothing else, make absolutely sure you’ve got a concrete address and a working phone number for the seller. In fact, call them before you order so you can clarify a return policy and where to go with any issues after the purchase.