One of the many conveniences that this tech-driven era offers us is online shopping. We’re not mad about the fact that there’s really no need to go to the mall anymore. Why fight for a parking space when you can buy virtually everything on your list online – especially with that free shipping!
While praising how comfy and convenient online shopping can be, it can come with associated risks. Any activity that requires you to provide personal or financial information online can open you up to the risk of financial or identity fraud if you’re not being careful.
Before your next online shopping spree, consider the tips below to help keep your personal and financial information secure.
Credit or Debit? Choose Carefully
Which should you be using for online purchases? Credit and debit cards typically offer different levels of financial protection when it comes to fraudulent charges. The primary difference is if someone gains access to your credit card information and goes on a shopping spree, that money isn’t coming directly out of your pocket. In most cases, you can report the fraud, get a refund on your statement, and the incident shouldn’t have an adverse effect on your bank accounts if resolved in a timely manner.
But, when fraud occurs on a debit card, those charges are coming out of your bank account. If your account is drained, this can snowball into other financial burdens like overdrafts or having legitimate charges denied.
If you don’t have a credit card, there are things you can do to help minimize the impact of fraud—such as signing up for overdraft protection or setting up card controls for your debit card. For example, Ally Card Controls can help you monitor when, where, and how your debit card is being used. It offers a range of features to help you monitor transactions, control spending, and manage card activity.
At the very minimum, you can follow simple best practices like only using a single dedicated payment card for online purchases and checking your statements regularly to track any suspicious activity.
Avoid Shopping on Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is typically not going to encrypt your information, which can make you more vulnerable to a cybercriminal hacking the network and accessing your information. Instead, use a secure network that does not allow public access, like your home network. And, most importantly, make sure your home wireless network is as secure as it can be!
For additional protection, make sure your browser is up to date and turn on your browser’s phishing protection feature. Most browsers have something like this – check your preferences to determine what features are available on your specific browser.
Keep Your Passwords and Online Accounts Secure
Many online retailers will give you the option to create an online account, which might make return shopping trips more convenient but can also put your personal and financial information at risk if you’re not careful. The key is to avoid storing any sensitive information (like your address or credit card number) with the retailer. Instead, enter your personal and financial info manually each time.
For any online account – with a financial institution or a shopping site – strong passwords are going to help protect your information. Use strong passwords and change them regularly (experts recommend every 3-6 months). It’s also recommended that you use a different password for each online account to help prevent a domino effect in case one account is compromised.
Experts suggest using passwords that combine numbers, letters, and upper- and lowercase letters. It’s also a good idea not to use common phrases or dates, such as your name or birthday. If you write them down, keep them in a safe place. Or instead of writing your passwords down, use an app like Last Pass or PassKeeper to securely record your personal passwords in one place.
Only Enter Your Information into Secure Pages
Before you enter any personal or financial information into a website, check to see if it is a secure site.
Here’s how to check: does the website’s URL begin with https or http? The s in https means the site is secure and your information is encrypted so that it can be transmitted safely. Reputable merchants and online banks will always use this type of encryption on their sites.
Don’t be alarmed if only some pages of the website start with https and other start with http. The important thing is that either the log in page or any page where you’re submitting personal information is secure.
Be Vigilant Throughout the Shopping Process
We tend to face the most risk at checkout, but be vigilant throughout the entire shopping process. Make sure you’re shopping on a legitimate website. Some hackers will create fake websites to entice online shoppers to offer up their financial information. Clicking around a phony site can be dangerous, with drive-by-downloads or malicious links.
Do you have any tried and true security tips for online shopping? We want to hear what tactics you’re using in the comments below!