Practically the whole world is locked up inside their homes because of the threat of coronavirus. And many have jobs that cannot be done from home. For some folks, this is causing anxiety and depression. For some others, it is about boredom and restlessness. While some indulge in retail therapy, others just want to buy groceries.
Either way, everyone is shopping online and this raises two safety concerns. The first one is obvious and is on everyone’s mind.
Are the products being prepared, packed, and delivered safely?
The second one, about online shopping safety, is something many are forgetting.
Are we being safe with our data when we shop online?
The Importance of Safe Online Shopping
Whether it was the Iran-Iraq war or Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, oil was key to these conflicts. In today’s world, data is the new oil. Since Edward Snowden’s NSA leak it has been clearer than ever that we have entered the era of information wars, and scandals like Cambridge Analytica have only driven that point home.
How does that concern you in your everyday life? Well, our entire lives are now online. Whether it is an innocent selfie or placing a grocery order, everything can be done online. For a few years now, online shopping has gone from being the exception to becoming the norm. Every purchase is a couple of clicks away and every delivery is just a couple of days away.
There’s almost nothing that we won’t find online which means it is crucial for us to know how to do this with caution and safety. If you haven’t already done this, now is a good time to check out online shopping safety tips. Especially since we all have some time on our hands. But you don’t have to mine the depths of the internet to figure it out. We’ve done it for you.
The Many Ways of Stealing of Stuff
There are more than a dozen ways to steal your stuff when you are shopping online. A cybercriminal could steal your credit card information or your identity. They could hack into your device or scam you into spending money. If you are not careful, your online adventures could take a rather disastrous turn.
The Identity Theft Resource Center has reported that in 2015 alone, there were 780 security breaches and over 170 million personal records were compromised. Businesses are expected to spend over $1 trillion on cyber safety from 2017 to 2021. It is estimated that the cost of cybercrime, globally, will be $6 trillion by 2021.
The FBI’s IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) has released data that says that non-payment/non-delivery is the most reported cybercrime in the US. It means you either don’t get paid for an item you have shipped or you don’t receive the item you have already paid for. It is the most common kind of internet auction fraud.
Don’t Panic, Just Be Prepared
While the traps are all over the internet, you are not as vulnerable as it appears to be in theory. For every tactic that the bad guys have, there are simple precautions that you can take and save yourselves from a horrendous experience. It seems like a long list but you probably know a lot of these things. Just remember to do them actively each time you go e-shopping. It’s just like carrying your wallet each time you go to the mall.
Here are the top 10 things to watch out for.
1. Use a Secure Connection on Your Device
The first thing you need to check is on your device itself. Your personal information is at risk if your laptop or smartphone is not protected. So the first step is to make sure that your firewall is on. When you are using a wireless connection to shop online, your activity needs to be encrypted so that your financial information remains safe. Turning our firewall on is like using drapes to make sure no one is peeking into your house. Be extra careful if you are using a public network because those might be easier to break into.
2. Make Sure the Website Is Secure
Once your laptop or smartphone is secure, the next step is to make sure the website you are accessing is safe. For this, you need to check the URL (that’s the one on the address bar on top of the page) and make sure it begins with “https:” and not “http:”.
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and the ‘s’ means that the website is protected with the Secure Socket Layer protocol. Secure Socket Layer or SSL is a protocol that was developed so that information can be exchanged securely over the internet. Your information is encrypted before it is sent to the website. Only your computer and the server can read the data. It protects your data from any third party trying to access it by keeping the data between you and the seller.
3. Buy Only from Reputed Sellers
Nowadays there are a ton of websites with a variety of products and attractive deals. Be wise in picking the merchant. If a deal looks too good to be true, err on the side of caution. When you buy from big e-commerce companies you can be sure that their practices are safe and both your money and information are in good hands.
If you are buying from the website of a company with a physical store, it gets better because in case there is a problem, you can just walk into their store and get help.
If you are using merchants that come highly recommended, make sure that those who have recommended are talking about reliable customer service. That way you know that the merchant offers a good product and quality service.
If you are shopping on a new website, do some background research yourself. Check Yelp or Google for reviews. Read about the website and check their e-commerce history. Leave the website at the first sign of trouble.
4. Use the Right Apps When Using Your Cell Phone
When it comes to safety, shopping on your smartphone is no different from using your laptop or PC. In fact, it is a bit more secure than pulling out your credit card and entering the information (or saving it to avoid the hassle, but we’ll get to that in a minute).
When you use your phone to shop, you can use mobile payment apps like Google Pay or Apple Pay. These mostly generate an OTP (one-time password) to authenticate your purchase and you are done. The OTP cannot be stolen and you don’t have to worry about someone skimming your card.
Card skimming is used by fraudsters to steal your credit or debit card information including PIN numbers. This often happens at ATMs and point-of-sales machines.
You can avoid all of this by directly using the retailer’s app (instead of opening their website on the browser) and entering information manually.
5. Credit Card vs Debit Card
This one is a lesser-known detail. While you can use both credit and debit cards to shop online, using a credit card or a PayPal account has certain advantages it.
Credit cards offer extra protection in case there is a problem. If your information is stolen, there is a liability limit with credit card purchases. It is often under $50 and your bank account is shielded from attempts of massive fraud.
With a debit card, you have to track the activity. If something is wrong, you need to go through the hassle of canceling the card and take care of the rest. Meanwhile, you are still out of money and your card is blocked.
The safest way is to keep one credit card aside just for online transactions.
6. Don’t Give Excess Information
When you enter your information on a merchant’s website, spend a minute to think about the data they are collecting. It is logical to provide your name, address, phone number, email ID, and details of your mode of payment. But some merchants ask for extra details regarding your bank or your social security number. Apart from that, companies also like to ask about the things you are interested in buying. Stop the process and walk away, unless it is optional. And try to reveal as little as possible.
7. Monitor Your Bank Statements
It is a healthy habit to go online and check your bank statements whenever you have the time, whether it is your credit card, debit card, or other checking accounts. Even though most of our transactions–big and small–are all electronic, you must be able to vaguely recall the debits and credits you see on your statement.
If something looks unfamiliar, identify the website where the transaction was made and try to double-check it from there. If it is PayPal or Amazon, there will be a list of transactions from your account which can be used for corroboration.
Don’t hesitate to call customer service or other toll-free options to double-check the purchase. While paying your credit card bill, only clear dues that you can vouch for. Usually, banks give you up to 30 days to them in case of a discrepancy. Utilize that time well.
8. Set Unique Passwords
It is common knowledge that our passwords for different websites should not only be tough to guess but also be unique. You cannot have your birthday or “123456” or the word “password” as your password.
While this is important everywhere it is crucial when you are shopping online because each time you create an account and use a password, your details, financial information included, will be saved in these accounts. It is not optional and you don’t want to leave your data vulnerable to attacks.
The rule of thumb while picking a password is to have both uppercase and lowercase characters (that is capital and small letters), make sure it’s alphanumeric (a mix of letters and numbers) and has at least one special character. And try not to use the same string everywhere.
9. Be Extra Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi
If you are shopping while waiting for your Starbucks order and you are using their Wi-Fi, there’s a couple of extra precautions. The same applies for shopping from a hotel room or the airplane. These connections are usually not secure because they are meant for everyone to easily login.
If you are in a public place and able to access multiple Wi-Fi connections, pick wisely. A process called Wi-phishing is the most popular trap laid by hackers to trick you into logging in. Ideally, pick a network with the lock symbol next to it and use the password given to you (by the hotel or whoever is in charge) to login. If you use an iPhone listen to the “security recommendation” it gives.
If it is an emergency and you are desperate for a connection, try using your own devices as hotspots (laptop to cell phone and vice versa). And if you can help it, try not to do financial transactions on public connections.
10. Use an Internet Security Program
Here’s a sure-shot way to keep your data secure and your privacy intact. Use a good internet security program. These are programs that provide anti-phishing and theft protection services.
The programs use encryption to keep your data safe, digital signature to check the authenticity of transactions, and security certificates, which are unique digital IDs to verify users, companies, websites, etc.
Watch This Video if You Don’t Feel Like Reading However, we recommend doing both!
As a general rule, don’t click on suspicious links or respond to bizarre requests. If you have no association with the sender of the email or an offer seems too good to be true, be skeptical. If you keep these things in mind, you will be fine in all likelihood. Good luck and happy shopping!
Lorenzo has been using the internet for as long as he can remember. He was there for the early days of message boards, he watched social media take over, and he’s excited to see what comes next.