2015 is destined to be the year of the online shopper: not only are major retailers expanding their online offerings to compete with Amazon, but the New York Times has also claimed the death of the shopping mall. Even the Girl Scouts are offering an app to find their coveted cookies, making it easier than ever to complete much of your shopping online. But with numerous reports citing major data breaches last year it’s important to protect your personal and financial information from getting into the wrong hands. We’re here to help with some simple steps you can take to maximize your security and keep online shopping worry-free.
- Save your online shopping for home.
While it may be tempting to get some shopping done on your smartphone or laptop while out and about, using public wi-fi connections increases a hacker’s ability to connect to your device and steal your information. Simply bookmark the item and buy it from home.
- Only shop on HTTP Secure (https) sites.
Though not entirely hack-proof, https sites increase your online security by verifying that only you and the retailer have access to the site, not anyone else trying to view your personal information. How do you know if the site’s secure? Check out the address bar at the top—if you don’t see the “S” after http, think twice before using the website. Some browsers like Google Chrome even highlight that information in green.
- Opt out when it comes to storing information online.
While it may seem like a quick shortcut for future purchases, don’t let websites store your credit card information. As we know from the 2013 Target breach, no company is immune from being hacked, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and decline storing your payment information online.
- Be password-savvy.
We’ve moved beyond the days where you can simply use your mother’s maiden name as a secure password. Now, it’s safest to use a random combination of letters, numbers and symbols, so create a mnemonic device and update your passwords. You’ll also want to choose a different password for different accounts, so that if one is compromised, not all of your accounts can be accessed with the same password. While you’re at it, also make sure to password-protect your smartphone in case it gets lost or stolen.
- Check your bank account daily.
Whether you’re shopping online or in the stores, it’s always good to check your bank and credit card accounts on a regular basis. This will alert you to any suspicious activity, allowing you to quickly freeze your accounts before any major damage takes place. Debit cards generally require that you report fraudulent charges within two business days to limit your liability, so it’s smart to keep as updated as possible. See if your bank will let you set up automatic alerts or reports for certain types of transactions.
- Be keen on assessing online shops.
There are times when you have to trust your gut in identifying stores that are shady or those that may compromise the security of your data. Beware of sites that ask too much personal information and when you happen to deal with such, the best way is to find your way out by quitting and leaving the site. Keep in mind that a really good online deal is nothing if that would mean losing some amount because of the information that they have taken away from you.
- Be smart when using your mobile device.
As much as you want to enjoy the convenience of using smartphones wherever you are, you also have to keep in mind that they don’t have the protection against threats unlike what a desktop provides making it easier for hackers to steal the information you enter. Another precaution to watch out for are the shortened URLs used by mobile-friendly devices which also pose the risks for you to visit an unsafe site as you are left with no idea whether the URL you are visiting is secure or not.
- Avoid clicking links in emails.
One smart way to keep online shopping secure is to type the actual address of the online shop that you intend to visit instead of clicking the links found in emails. Phishing is commonly done in emails. Untrusted sites may come in the form of links that seem to appear as legitimate sites, when in fact they are sites that are intended to steal your data. Remember that authentic websites won’t require important information thru email and if you happen to encounter this, you’re best option is to disregard the email and put it in the trash.
- Keep Your Browser Up-to-Date
Browsers are updated for important reasons and one of these is to keep the browsing experience safe and secure. To keep online shopping secure, update your Internet browser with the latest version to patch the holes that hackers may be able to penetrate and exploit.
If you need something only found at a specific retail location, or even at a pop-up store or farmer’s market, consider taking out cash at the ATM before purchasing anything. This is also a good idea if you are shopping in a new area, or at places using potentially unsecured mobile devices to process your payment. The easiest way to prevent this and protect your personal finances is to use cash whenever possible.
What new online shopping habits will you start in 2015? Let us know in the comments section.