For most of us, making online transactions is all about shopping! And although super convenient, there are risks to making purchases online, especially as cybercriminals become more advanced.
However, by being vigilant, using some added layers of security, and following some basic tips, you can help protect yourself and make it harder for thieves to access your information (and hard earned dollars).
Here’s our nine, easy to follow tips to help keep you safe when making online transactions.
1. Try to avoid public Wi-Fi
Always remember to only shop online with a device (that’s yours) and a private Wi-Fi connection. Public Wi-Fi has fewer security features than a private network. Using a service such as SafeCentral will help encrypt your data and add a layer of security to both private and public networks.
2. Stick to websites you know
If you know the website the chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off. We all know Amazon.com for instance, but just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Target to Best Buy.
However, it’s important to remember that search results can be manipulated so beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example).
3. Be wary of direct merchant offers
If you receive an email with a link to a website, avoid shopping directly through that link — even if it is a big, well-known company. Instead, navigate to the site through your web browser. You can go directly to the site if you know the address or bring it up on your search engine by looking up the merchant’s name.
This approach will help protect your device from a possible phishing attack, in which fraudsters use official-looking email addresses and logos to try to trick you into handing over your information.
If the merchant isn’t well known, some research may be necessary to prevent a potential security breach. Start by looking up the merchant’s name online and see what you get.
4. Look for the lock
Never buy anything online 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 also appear, typically to the left of the URL in the address bar. HTTPS is standard now even on non-shopping sites, so much so that Google Chrome flags any page without the extra S as “not secure.”
5. Don’t overshare
The more information you hand over, the more potential scammers will know about you, and the easier it is to steal your identity. It’s a sad reality but major websites suffer from data breaches all the time.
When and wherever possible, your default position should be to give up as little personal data as possible
6. Make your passwords super strong
It’s so important in today’s ever connected, online world that you utilize uncrackable passwords – especially when banking and shopping online. The best approach is to use a password manager to create uncrackable passwords for you.
These services are great as they keep track of all your passwords and enters them, so you don’t have to think about it (or remember every password).
7. Making payments
Ideally, you should only ever buy online with a credit card. If your debit card is compromised, scammers have direct access to your bank funds.
Credit cards can offer more security than other payment options, and you should also consider using some of these extra measures to keep you even safer.
Third-party digital wallets
Using a smart-phone and mobile payment app like Apple Pay and Google Pay can offer added protection because you don’t need your credit card with you, and they don’t provide your credit card information to the merchant. Instead, they serve up a one-time virtual account number for each purchase, a process called “tokenization” which you approve using your device and a fingerprint, face ID, or passcode. Apple even goes as far as not storing your account number on your device or on Apple servers.
Virtual credit card numbers
Not all websites accept mobile wallet payments, but your credit card might offer “virtual account numbers” that work in the same way.
If someone does get their hands on your credit card account login details, setting up two-factor authentication can block them from accessing more information. In addition to your login and password information, it adds a second step like requiring a passcode via text or email to ensure that you’re the one accessing the account.
You may have the option to also set up alerts via text or email for “card not present” transactions (meaning online purchases). You can also do this for instances in which the balance and/or transaction exceeds a designated amount. This can help you spot unauthorized transactions and dispute them.
You may want to consider using your credit card to make an online purchase through PayPal if the merchant offers that option. Doing this, means you don’t have to give your credit card information to the merchant (helpful if you’re trying out an unfamiliar business or brand). PayPal serves as an intermediary between you and the merchant, allowing you to make a payment with a login and password when you set up an account.
8. It pays to check statements regularly
Go online regularly and look at statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Look for any fraudulent charges, even originating from large, trusted payment sites like PayPal.
If you see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, pay the bill only when you know all your charges are accurate. Typically, you’ll have 30 days to notify the bank or card issuer of problems, however; after that, you might be liable for the charges anyway.
9. Protect your devices
You need to protect your devices against malware with regular updates to your antivirus program. Better yet, opting for a full-blown security suite, which gives you protection while browsing, shopping and banking online, as well as antivirus software that combats spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites (the latter two try and steal your personal info by mimicking a message or site that looks genuine), will further bolster your level of protection.
Also, make sure your anti-malware tools are always up to date. Otherwise, they can let in any new threats. And remember to keep your contact information up to date on issuers’ apps and websites so that you may be reached about possible fraudulent activities.
Online shopping is fun, convenient and growing, so enjoy, but remember to stay safe online using our tips and more.