As the holiday shopping season hits full swing and that gift-buying checklist remains largely undented while the big day draws nearer, online shopping can be a huge time-saver. The convenience of online shopping, though, does come with some inherent risks. To avoid the security pitfalls that can accompany the sharing of personal and financial information over the internet, online shoppers should consider these tactics for increasing their e-shopping security:
- Use reputable retailers: Consumers’ safest bet is to stick with stores they already know and trust. That said, sometimes the best deal might be on an offer from an unfamiliar up-and-comer. Before doing business with these retailers, buyers should do a little homework first. Further, shoppers should keep an eye out for scammers who might be posing as a legitimate website but using a web address with a slight misspelling in the url or using a different top-level domain than the official website. Of course, it’s also wise to avoid offers that seem too good to be true and shoppers should avoid giving anyone information they shouldn’t need to carry out the transaction, such as a Social Security number or birth date.
- Look for the lock: Online shoppers should always make sure they’re using a secure internet connection before providing any financial information such as credit card numbers. To do this, they should look for a padlock in the address bar of their browser, or for a url that begins with “https” rather than “http” — the “s” stands for “secure.” This way, shoppers can be assured that the information they’re transmitting will be encrypted upon submission, making it much more difficult to intercept.
- Use a secure method of payment: Savvy shoppers avoid purchasing from sites that don’t accept secure payment methods such as PayPal or credit cards, each of which offer buyer protections in the case of any dispute or fraudulent charges. (And shoppers should be especially wary of sellers who insist upon payments via check, money order or wire transfer). Another good tip for consumers is to use a credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases, as the former puts a limit on the amount of money that can be charged in the cardholder’s name, plus credit cards don’t directly link to the cardholder’s other financial accounts. Some users who want to be especially cautious seek out credit cards with low spending limits for use with their online purchases. That way, if their credit-card information is compromised, the thief is only able to make a relatively small amount of charges with the card before it exceeds its spending limit.
- Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi or public computers: Whenever possible, consumers should try to avoid submitting their financial information via a public computer or over a public Wi-Fi connection. Public connections can be risky for a couple of reasons. First, it’s hard to be certain that the public network with the name of a nearby retailer (or even hotel or restaurant) isn’t actually being run by a malicious entity posing as the recognizable business. Second, even if the public network is being provided by a legitimate business, others could be scanning its activity and collecting users’ information.
- Check financial statements frequently: This is a good rule of thumb for all consumers, but it’s an especially good idea for those who are concerned about their financial information being compromised online. By keeping a close eye on their financial statements, consumers can quickly spot any fraudulent transactions, then immediately report them to their bank or credit-card issuer. If needed, the financial institution can stop payment for the fraudulent charge or even issue a new account number to prevent the possibility of any additional charges.
- Don’t let websites save financial information: While it can be especially convenient for consumers to let retailers keep their credit card information on file for future purchases, this can also present dangers because it provides hackers an opportunity to use the stored financial information. While it requires more work to re-enter financial information each time a purchase is made, the extra few minutes spent on each transaction can also prevent future headaches over fraudulent charges.
Retail websites aren’t the only place where dangers lurk online. For more information about staying secure when using the internet, check out this blog article — Nine Ways to Prevent Cyber Security Breaches— on the FTC News & Blog pages. And while you’re there, check out our 5 Terrible Password Ideas article to learn a few passwords to avoid.