This past Cyber Monday, consumers spent nearly $8 billion online, with over 54% of purchases made directly from smartphones. Two days prior, on Black Friday, online sales surpassed $6 billion.
The holidays are, of course, prime time for purchases in general, and are an extreme example of the amount of shopping we do online.
But if you’re like most of us, you do plenty of your regular, day-to-day shopping online too. Why go to a store and wait in line when, with a few taps of our finger, we can have the same item shipped right to our door in a day or two?
Online shopping is extremely convenient. But here’s the catch: if we don’t take proper precautions, it can also be extremely dangerous.
The risks of shopping online
Every time we make purchases over the internet, we are potentially opening the door to:
- Viruses. A malicious link, site, or ad could easily infect your machine with viruses and malware.
- Scams. Bogus “sales” can trick you into paying for something you’ll never receive, or into buying fake/counterfeit items.
- Stolen account credentials. The email account and password associated with your purchase could be compromised. (And if you use those same credentials elsewhere, hackers can gain access to those accounts, too.)
- Stolen financial information. Credit card information and bank information could give hackers full access to your finances.
- Stolen identity. If more personal information is breached, you could fall victim to identity theft.
Fortunately, there are some security best practices you can follow to help minimize your risk.
Top 7 tips on how to shop online safely
Before making any purchase online, please consider the following.
1. Use the right card
Only use a credit card that has fraud protection to make your purchase. If you use a debit card and your information is compromised, the hacker would have direct access to your entire bank account.
You can also check to see if your bank offers temporary credit cards that you can set to expire, or a reloadable prepaid credit card.
Regardless, keep record of all your transactions, and check your statements for unfamiliar activity regularly.
2. Buy from trusted, secure sites only.
Amazon and all the major retailer sites are, for the most part, a safe bet. Make sure any site you buy from has “https” in the address bar versus “http,” and has a padlock icon to show that it’s secure.
If you navigate to an unfamiliar site to make a purchase, do an internet search with the site name and the word "security" to see what comes up.
3. Use a secure internet connection.
Avoid making purchases over public WiFi whenever possible – bad actors can intercept your connection and access your information. If you have to use public WiFi, use a VPN to connect.
4. Only submit information you absolutely have to.
Never give any online retailer your social security number or other personal information – it’s unnecessary and likely a scam. They need a name, credit card, and shipping address, but not much else.
5. Avoid using an important email account.
Consider setting up a separate email for all your online shopping accounts and product registrations. That way, if hackers ever obtain that email address from the site you bought from (an account they can try to phish or even breach), it won’t do them much good.
6. Use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication.
This is a best practice across the board. If you have trouble remembering passwords, consider a password manager like LastPass or DashLane.
7. If it seems “too good to be true,” it probably is.
You may receive emails about outrageous deals, or even see ads for them on your social media feeds. Approach all of these with great caution, as they could be (1) laced with malware, or (2) a scam.
Stay safe out there!