When you’re looking to buy clothing, video games, jewelry, or anything in between, the easiest way to do so is to order online. In many cases, a digital purchase can take a matter of seconds, and the customer service at most retailers is top-notch. However, it isn’t all positive. As technology advances and customers put more data online, cybercriminals have more opportunities to take advantage of your personal information.
Though hackers have many ways to steal your data, there are precautions you can take while shopping to mitigate potential theft. Whether you’re shopping from home or the local coffee shop, understand the risks and use these tips to stay safe.
Understanding the Danger of Online Shopping
In order to stay safe while shopping online, you have to know the risks. Retailers that don’t have strong cybersecurity measures can easily fall victim to cybercrime, and if your payment or personal information has been entered on their website, it can be stolen and used for nefarious purposes. Of course, your card numbers can be stolen and used to make fraudulent charges, but even your email address can be used by hackers to try and inflict damage on others via phishing scams.
As a first step, it’s recommended that you use a credit card to do your online shopping instead of a debit card. Credit accounts have more protections than debit, including maximum liability. If you use debit and your card information is stolen, it immediately comes out of your account, and even if you prove that it was a fraudulent charge, your actual money will be tied up until the issue is resolved or the bank provides a temporary credit. With credit cards, it’s a law under the Fair Credit Billing Act that regardless of the amount of fraud, your maximum liability can only be up to $50, and often, the card company can stop the charges before they go through.
However, this doesn’t mean that credit cards can’t also be compromised. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your monthly statements to ensure that there aren’t any unexpected charges. Many people also question the websites that ask if you want to save your payment information on their site for future use. This may be convenient, but there’s still a risk. If the company is hacked, this data can still be stolen, and even though your pin number isn’t saved, hackers can figure that out through smart systems and the process of elimination. Keep this in mind the next time they ask, and if you absolutely must save your info, save a credit card.
Know the Signs
When you shop online, it’s important to be aware of what makes a website secure and what you need to avoid. When you go to your favorite website, take a close look at the web address. It should say “HTTPS” instead of just “HTTP.” The “S” in that address stands for secure. It means that the company has an SSL certificate, and your data is encrypted so it can’t be stolen by hackers.
Every website that takes cybersecurity seriously should also have a website privacy statement that clearly describes how they use your data and your protections as a customer. A link to this privacy statement is often found at the bottom of the website. Also, make sure that you take notice of any company contact information on the website. An email, phone number, and even a physical address will show that the company can be contacted if there is an issue.
One common hacking technique that can be easy to fall for is the phishing scam. This is an email that appears to be sent by a trusted company, like Amazon or eBay, and it will often promote a deal that seems almost too good to be true. The trick is that the email will have a link or attachment that you need to click. When you do, you are opening the door to the hacker, and they can gain instant access to your computer and all of your data.
These emails can often look legitimate, but they will typically have signs that they aren’t quite what they seem, such as:
- An email that looks like it’s from a retailer, but it has a common email address like Gmail or Yahoo.
- An email filled with spelling errors (an attempt to get past the spam filters).
- A general greeting, like “dear sir” or “To whom it may concern.”
If you get an email with a deal that seems beyond belief, the safest course of action is to delete the email and go straight to the store website to see if the deal is legitimate.
One of the greatest perks of online shopping is that you can do it via your smartphone or tablet. Though this may be easy, you must take proper precautions or you could become a target to cyberthieves. If you’re shopping from a public place, be smart about connecting to Wi-Fi.
A common threat is the man-in-the-middle attack, which is a fake Wi-Fi network set up by a hacker, and when you connect, the hacker gains access to your phone and your information. If shopping in public, always ask the store owner for the correct Wi-Fi before signing on. Hackers can also attach malware to charging stations in public places and “juice jack” your personal info while you charge your phone.
If you have your payment information stored on your phone, losing that is the same as losing your wallet. Always secure your phone and keep it in your pocket when not in use. You need to lock your phone with a code and password that uses a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Face recognition or fingerprints are best as they can only be unlocked by you. Finally, go to the security options on your phone and turn on the encryption settings so your data cannot be read if stolen.
As we head into the future, online retailers will continue to evolve, and you should look to those companies to get the best protection and shopping experience. For instance, many companies are turning to cloud computing, which eliminates physical servers to create a faster connection. Frequent auditing by third parties provides better protection of your data and payment information. Many companies will likely be boasting these advantages in the future, creating an easy decision for those searching for the perfect retailer.
In the end, online shopping is as secure as you want it to be. Look for the signs, be proactive about securing your cards and mobile devices, and you can buy with confidence.