There’s not much difference when it comes to the security of online shopping versus shopping within an actual store. Basic rules still apply: 1) don’t give out your information to strangers and 2) stick with locations that are legitimate and have a history of consumer interaction.
In order to help further protect your identity and practice safer online security measures, here are some helpful tips to abide by when shopping online:
Listen to Your Gut
It’s that feeling you get when you walk into a room or situation that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If you find yourself not feeling good about the purchases you’re about to make online—besides the fact that it may be too expensive—then just close out your browser. Nothing is worth putting yourself at risk for a possible scam. That expense may end up costing you much more than just the price of the online item.
Public Browsing is for Browsing Not Shopping
Sure, it’s tempting to jump on to a café’s free WiFi while you take a coffee break from work and you just so happen to get an email stating that your favorite yoga pants are going on sale. Although the security of the website that hosts the yoga pants is secure, unfortunately the WiFi connection is not. A hacker can easily gather up your personal and financial information by using the same public WiFi. Wait until you get home or to a trusted friend’s house to shop from a secure WiFi connection. Your yoga pants may still be available but most importantly so will the security of your information.
Look for the “S” in HTTPS
Not many know this simple tip while shopping online however it’s one of the most important factors of knowing whether or not the website you’re shopping from is secure. Check to see that the website has an “s” at the end of the “https” URL. That “s” stands for “secure” and ensures the website you’re shopping from is only being looked at from the intended recipient (the shopping website) and the information that’s inputted is not floating around in cyberspace. If you decide to purchase something from a site that does not have an “s” attached to the end of “https” URL, just be wary not to give away too much of your information and that you’re possibly making it easier for a hacker to gather up your information and identity.
Passwords and Using Common Sense
If your password to any online account is “password” or “1234,” please stop reading this article and immediately change it. Passwords need to be unique and un-crackable. Fill your password with a combo of numbers, letters and possibly symbols to further complicate and throw off a hacker. They’ll more than likely stop trying and move on to someone else’s information. And if you’re using a shared computer, such as a computer within a school or the library, don’t save your Debit or Credit Card number or password information. It’s actually better to completely avoid using any shared computers for online shopping. If you must, because those new pair of kicks doesn’t always sell for half its original price, and you can’t seem to wait until you get home, then by all means shop at your own risk. Just be sure not click the “save password” button or agree to save your card information as someone who uses the computer after you could easily retrace your browser history and take advantage of your saved information.
One Step Process in Two Step Authentication
To help verify that it’s really you making an online purchase, there are many different mobile apps and security devices that ask you to conduct a thorough confirmation of your identity. For example: if you’ve downloaded a authenticator app to your computer or phone, the authenticator will ask you for several confirmations of your identity before you’re able to complete the purchase. To be technical, this process is called a multi-factor authentication (MFA). This is when two or more pieces of evidence is answered correctly to confirm identity. After the confirmations are complete, the user is therefore allowed access to continue their transaction. Examples of an MFA include anything from receiving a text message that states a one-time code or password to use for the transaction or a personal question that only you know the answer to.
Single and Ready to Mingle
With so many websites that require usernames and passwords to authenticate one’s identity, confirmation of whether or not the person providing the info is indeed that person has become more complex than ever before. Luckily there’s another route of identity authentication called the “single sign-on.” Facebook, for example, serves as a popular single sign-on service. Instead of having to create a new username and password for the website that you’re purchasing the item from, the host may ask you whether or not you’d like to authenticate your identity by signing on through your Facebook account. By allowing your sign on through Facebook, this allows another confirmation of authenticity to your identity. There are other single sign-on authenticators such as allowing access to a website through your gmail account or another social media account such as Instagram or Twitter. The convenience of this single sign-on option is also attractive for its users as you don’t have to remember a new username or password but just the email and password info of your single sign-on host.
Check… One, Two, Three
It may seem tedious but saving your receipts and checking your Checking Account transaction history and Credit Card statement each month may help you catch some sneaky hackers who weasel their way into your accounts. Smart hackers may do it in gradual amounts, unnoticeable to the unassuming shopper, so that they can continually charge your account each month like a stealth ninja thief. They do this because they’re also taking out small amounts of money from many other unlucky users. Since the amounts are in small increments, such as $10 or $20, and not thousands of dollars’ worth of skiing equipment, they’re then able to remain under the radar, especially to those who don’t check their statement for these red flag expenses. So as to not help their fund of thievery, checking and double-checking your transactions and statement for any inaccurate expenditures is highly suggested and encouraged. If you do find discrepancies within your statement, contact your financial institution and/or credit card company right away.
Call, Text, Alert Me
With today’s technological advances, it may be wise to sign up for fraud alerts via text or phone call. Most card providers have a way in detecting purchases that are uncharacteristic of the card user and they’d be more than happy to let you know about them. For example, if you purchased a blouse from an IP address in Honolulu one afternoon, yet made another purchase for a new mattress set from an IP address in Quebec, Canada that same hour, you would want to be alerted about that as soon as possible. Imagine receiving a text in real time that a person has compromised your account. Knowing that you still have control by being informed and able to take necessary responsive measures—like cancelling your card right away—is one less thing you have to worry about. By working with your card provider to alert you if fraud purchases have been made, you’ll be at peace with at least being informed or confirmed whether or not you are actually making certain purchases.
Like all risks, nothing is truly safe especially when it comes to the vast world of online shopping. However, you can help further protect yourself and your account information by being vigilant and informed. By knowing what to look for and what precautions to make if certain shady websites or email alerts arise, you’ll not only better arm yourself with the tools to remain alert and careful, you’ll also help safeguard your information from greedy hackers. Although these tips are not completely hacker proof—as there are some who’ve gone through lengths to capture financial information and consumer identities—they serve as various safety measures and seat belts for your ride through the cyberworld.