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Tips for Secure Online Shopping

November 20, 2019

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Tips for Secure Online Shopping

The internet has revolutionized the way we shop. You can search for items from many different sellers from the comfort of your living room, easily compare pricing between vendors, and purchase products with the click of a mouse. While this has made shopping easier than ever, it leaves you vulnerable to attackers attempting to steal your personal and financial information. Criminals who get a hold of sensitive data can use it for their personal gain, making purchases with your account or selling the information to the highest bidder, while negatively affecting your financial security.

How do criminals target consumers?

There are four methods criminals commonly use to take advantage of online shoppers:

  • Target vulnerable computers – Hackers will try to gain access to your computer and all the data contained therein. That's why it's important to take steps to protect your personal computers from viruses or malicious code. This also applies to vendors handling sensitive information; they must protect any customer data stored on their business devices.
  • Intercept financial transactions – If transaction information isn't encrypted at the point of sale, criminals may be able to intercept the information as it is being transmitted.
  • Sending phishing emails – Scammers don't need to infect your computer with a virus or malware in order to gain access to personal information. Attackers will often send emails that appear to be legitimate in order to convince you to supply them with information.
  • Creating fraudulent websites – Hackers have become very good at creating phony websites that look like official webpages in order to trick people into entering in personal information.

How can you protect yourself?

Now that you know the tactics attackers will use to gain access to your information, it's important to keep these tips in mind when shopping online:

  • Be skeptical of emails asking for your personal information – You should never assume the legitimacy of any email that asks you to provide account information. Most businesses do not solicit account information or ask for purchase confirmations via email. A good rule of thumb: never provide sensitive information through email. If an email asks you to click a link, you should instead visit the company's website directly.
  • Only do business with reputable vendors – Any time you visit a shopping site, you should verify that you're working with a reputable vendor. Always review the site certificate information (paying special attention to the "issued to" information) and take note of phone numbers and physical addresses in case there is a problem with your purchase or your bill.
  • Use a credit card – Credit cards usually offer greater fraud protection than debit cards. Also, because they are not tied directly to your bank account, you'll still have access to your money in the event that you need to deactivate your card.
  • Make sure your information is encrypted – If a site is using a secure, encrypted connection, the URL will begin with "https" instead of "http" and your address bar will show a locked padlock icon like this 🔒. Some attackers will use a fake padlock icon on the website itself; you want to make sure the icon appears in your browser's address bar.
  • Check your shopping app's settings – Be careful when using an app to shop. There is no legal limit on your liability for funds stored on a shopping app or gift card.
  • Check your statements – Keep a record of any purchases you make online and compare them with your regular financial statements. Any discrepancies should immediately be reported to your financial institution.
  • Read the vendor's privacy policy – You should always be aware of how your sensitive data is being used before you provide a seller with any personal or financial information.

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