Online shopping is efficient, convenient, and unfortunately, potentially risky. From fake websites to unsecured connections to hackers stealing personal information, putting your financial information out there can be dicey.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, identity thieves and hackers will especially be trying to take advantage of the online sales and scam people into making bogus purchases or sharing sensitive personal information online.
We want you to feel safe and confident that your information is protected, so we’ve put together our top tips for online shopping safety.
Tip #1: Look for the https://
When you want to check a site’s security, first check the address bar. Is there an https:// before the website address or just an http://? The s, which stands for secure, indicates that the website has an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate and encrypts any information entered into the website before it leaves the site.
Many internet browsers also have a small padlock next to the address bar for secure sites and may even highlight the address in green if it’s secure (or red if it’s not). Never give out personal or financial information on a website without an SSL certificate—it’s not worth the risk!
Double-check a site’s security
Most browsers display small logos in the address bar that indicate which security certifications they have, like DigiCert, Verisign, Symantec, or Norton (and many websites have more than one). If you click on the logo, a new window or tab should open with details about the website’s security. If the logo is just a picture and not a button, that’s a red flag!
Tip #2: Do your research
An SSL certificate is not a guarantee that a website is on the up-and-up, so do a little research before shopping on unfamiliar websites.
- Read user reviews to verify that others have had positive experiences with the company.
- Research the reputation of the seller through customer review sites like the Better Business Bureau.
- Make sure the site has multiple ways to contact the business (phone, email, online chat, physical address). You can even ask a question and see how quickly you get a response.
- Pay attention to the kinds of information required at checkout—retailers don’t need your Social Security number or birth date to complete a transaction.
If you’re ever unsure that a website is legitimate, it’s best to steer clear. And whether you use a new website or one that you trust, read through the shipping information and return policies carefully so you know what to expect if something goes wrong.
Hang on to your proof of purchase
Always save a copy of the confirmation page after you make a purchase—either through printing the page or taking a screenshot. Don’t forget to get a tracking number for shipping as well!
Tip #3: Don’t make purchases over a public Wi-Fi connection
When you use an open or unsecured network, anyone with the right know-how can potentially see your device and what kinds of information you send, including your name, address, and credit card details.
You should have protections in place for your private Wi-Fi connection at home, but public Wi-Fi is often unsecured. Avoid shopping online while using a free public Wi-Fi or hotspot. If you need to connect over Wi-Fi, use your own phone as a hotspot rather than using an unsecured connection.
Watch your screen in public
Be mindful of where you are and who can see your screen when you are out and about. It’s easy for someone to look over your shoulder and copy your credit card number if you aren’t aware of your surroundings.
Tip #4: Stick with secure payment methods
When you do shop online, use only payment types that have some kind of insurance against fraud. Never use websites that ask for money orders, wire transfers, or checks. Credit cards or PayPal are safer because they generally come with protection against identity theft and fraudulent activity.
Make sure your children don’t have access to your credit card information. Turn off purchasing in apps or require authentication before making purchases on devices that your kids often use to avoid unexpected or problematic charges.
Tip #5: Keep your antivirus software updated
Your first line of defense against malicious websites, emails, and downloads is to keep your antivirus software up to date. Make sure that you have antivirus software and malware protection installed on all your devices—don’t skip this step!
Don’t wait to install updates, and take care of any threat alerts right away. We recommend using one of the top antivirus software programs for the best protection.
Always install hardware and firmware updates whenever they are available. Turn on automatic updates for your computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices to make it easier.
Tip #6: Use a password manager
Passwords protect a lot of sensitive information, but reusing the same passwords for multiple accounts or creating weak passwords puts your information at a greater risk of theft.
Use a password manager to proactively protect your information from hackers. Password managers make it easier to save long, complicated passwords and sync them across all your devices so you don’t have to remember them all. Password managers use some of the highest levels of encryption to make sure your information stays protected, no matter which websites you visit.
If you have a lot of accounts across the internet, look for a password manager that offers a bulk password changing feature. This will save you a ton of time and hassle when it’s time to update your passwords.
Tip #7: Protect yourself against identity theft
No matter how careful you are, there’s still a chance that your information can be stolen or compromised. An identity theft protection service will monitor your information, provide insurance against costly identity theft charges, and alert you right away if something changes or seems wrong.
Some basic identity theft services are free, but we recommend the more robust and comprehensive coverage of a subscription service.
Keep an eye out for fraud
Always go through your monthly bank account and credit card statements to make sure everything looks right. If you see an unfamiliar charge, investigate immediately—the sooner fraudulent charges are reported, the more likely they are to be resolved.
Shop smart to have fun
Remember to use trusted sources, check for security updates regularly, and look for that https:// before entering your financial information anywhere. Armed with this information and with safety measures in place, you’ll be prepared to protect yourself online while still enjoying the perks of shopping from your couch.