Malicious hackers have been known to find creative ways to get your money. In a 2016 study, a Dutch expert found almost 6,000 online shopping sites that harbored data-stealing code – with the companies running those sites being none the wiser. Stolen data was covertly forwarded to foreign servers and exposed thousands of unsuspecting online shoppers.
News like this gets your attention with an alarming frequency, and yet most of us like the convenience of online shopping. Being able to order virtually anything at any time of day or night and have it delivered to your doorstep saves so much time and effort in our busy lives. Is there anything you can do to keep yourself safe while shopping online?
Here are 5 tips to get you started.
Double check all website addresses.
Websites that start with “HTTPS” have to go through an additional layer of security testing and certification compared to the more common “HTTP” sites. Check the address of the site you are considering to be sure.
Do some digging before you hit that “buy now” button.
Can you find a physical mailing address or phone number for the business? Does the website look and feel professional? Does your eye catch anything suspicious? When it comes to your personal and financial information, it is better to be safe.
Use credit cards and other online payment methods.
Your bank account information (like the routing number and the bank account number) can compromise you if it falls into the wrong hands. Whenever possible, use a form of payment that is disconnected from your primary bank account. Credit cards, PayPal or Venmo aren’t 100% secure, but at least there is a line of defense that prevents the thief from emptying out your bank account.
Use a secure network.
Many people don’t realize that public access networks at coffee shops and other public places are notoriously easy to break into. I have once seen a demonstration where a hacker broke into a volunteer’s computer on a hotel network in under 1 minute. If you need to access the Internet while away from home, invest in a VPN. For an annual cost of around $60, you will sleep better.
Beware of offers that look too good to be true.
Sneaky criminals often lure their victims with a promise of a great deal, expiring in under 10 minutes. Any time you see an offer that is just too good to be true, remind yourself that it probably is.
Is there such a thing as “safe online shopping”?
Not really. Any online activity exposes you to a variety of risks. While technology has made it easy for us to shop in our pajamas at 10 PM, it has also facilitated online crime. Thieving bots and automated malware scripts don’t take a vacation, and neither should you when it comes to online safety. Stay vigilant, do your research and do what you can to minimize your risk exposure. Your bank account will thank you!