There once was a time when we scrutinized websites before handing over our credit card numbers; our personal information; even our real names! But that time is far in the past.
These days, as online shopping continues to rise and rise in popularity, people hand over the credit card info to a huge range of websites. Granted, security for ecommerce and online payment has also gotten better, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still gaps in security. Plus, there’s the added threat of data breaches, which means that even large retailers aren’t always a safe place to do your shopping.
So what should a security-conscious consumer do? Avoid shopping altogether? Only ever pay in cash? Don’t worry — we have some tips for safe online shopping this holiday season.
1. Use Sites You Know
Shop on sites you’re already familiar with or a major retail outlet. That’s not to say major outlets are always safe, but they’re less likely to rip you off. Beware of sites that use different top-level domains or have misspellings, or worse both (such as amaz0n.info).
Another added precaution is using third-party payments, like PayPal, if they’re offered. That puts another layer of security between you and potential thieves.
2. Stay on a secure network
Free, public Wi-Fi is especially tempting during a time like Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend while you’re shopping on the go. But remember that public Wi-Fi is incredibly unsafe.
A network is only as secure as everyone on it, so if just anybody can hop on a public network, then malicious somebodies can, too. You should be very cautious of jumping on a public network, even if it’s password protected. After all, how protected can the corner cafe’s network be it the password is on the wall? But if you must shop over a public network, then make sure to turn on your VPN.
3. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPNs are a must-have if you use any public Wi-Fi network, password protected or not. Because VPNs encrypt your information, you can do your usual shopping routine — browse a site, login or sign up for a site, check your bank account, enter your credit card information and address –- without having to worry about thieves getting a hold of your data.
Another perk of shopping while on a VPN is that sometimes you can unlock geo-restricted deals. For example, sometimes flights can be cheaper if you set your VPN to look like you’re coming from a different country.
4. Don’t Overshare
Be careful to not share too much personal information. If any retail site requests your social security number, run far, far away. Also be wary of a retail site that asks for information like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, your first pet’s name, your income. Sometimes sites promise great deals for disclosing this information, so you need to ask yourself if the deal is worth it. The Devil is in the details, and it’s with this metadata that criminals can cause some serious damage.
For most online retail outlets, the only information they need to process your purchase is your name, billing address (plus mailing address, if you’re buying a tangible item), email address, and credit card information.
5. Check your bank statements
It's always good practice to regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious purchases, but even more so during the holiday season. If something looks out of place, investigate right away. If it turns out to be fraudulent, let your bank or card issuer know and immediately report the card in question.