There’s never been an easier time to shop. You can check out thousands of products without even leaving the comfort of your home, and when you order online, you can typically score better deals. While you don’t have your product right away when you buy online, shipping tends to be fast.
This convenience has led to more consumers shopping online, as almost 70 percent of U.S. adults make at least one purchase online per month. About a third of consumers buy online once a week or more often.
There are plenty of e-commerce sites available, but many present the risk of online fraud. By following a few simple and important steps, you can stay safe with your online transactions. Here are six tips that can help you.
Update All Your Software Regularly
Whether you’re using a laptop, smartphone or another device, check that all of its software is updated before you use it to shop online. In particular, you should verify that it has the latest versions of its browser and antivirus program, along with the most recent patches for its other software.
Outdated software is more vulnerable to viruses, spyware and malware which hackers can use to steal your personal information.
Pay Attention to the Address Bar
As simple as this is, many consumers overlook it. All you need to do is look at the URL of the site before you buy from it. It should start with “HTTPS” and have a green bar with a padlock before the URL, which shows that the site uses secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption.
SSL encryption prevents other parties from intercepting any data you enter in the site. If the site doesn’t use SSL encryption, don’t enter your credit card number or any other personal information, because a hacker could intercept it.
Don’t Share Unnecessary Personal Information
While you don’t want anyone getting hold of your credit card information, the real danger is if a cybercriminal gets your personal information. The more information someone has on you, the easier it is for them to steal your identity.
Standard information for an online purchase is your full name, address, phone number, email address and billing information. If a store wants any other information, such as your Social Security number or driver’s license number, leave the site immediately as sharing that information is completely unnecessary and very dangerous.
Be Smart with Passwords
Data breaches often occur simply because passwords were left unencrypted or poorly encrypted. The best way to keep your accounts safe is by changing the passwords every few months. Don’t use the same password for every account, because if a hacker steals your password for one account, they can then get into all your accounts.
Two-factor authentication is a great way to add an extra layer of security to all your accounts. This requires you to go through an extra step after entering your password to log in to your account. For example, a site could text a code to your phone which you need to enter to log in to your account.
Never Use Public Wi-Fi to Shop
Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt any of the data being sent over the network, making them unsecure and unsuitable for online shopping.
Check the network you’re connected to before you shop online. Many devices automatically connect to the nearest network, so you could be on a public network without even knowing.
If you’re on a public network, it’s best to wait until you get to a secure network before shopping online. You can also use a virtual private network (VPN) which will encrypt your data.
Be Careful with Links in Emails
One of the most common types of online scams are phishing emails that appear to come from trusted senders, such as banks or online stores. A link in the email will send you to a phony site designed to trick you into entering sensitive information.
If you receive an email from a site you’ve used, don’t follow any links in the email. Avoid providing any sensitive information via email – this presents a security risk, so no bank, store or legitimate site is going to ask you for your information this way.
What should you do if you receive an email that looks suspicious? Go to the company’s site and contact them to ask about it. It’s best to include a screenshot of the email in question.
Online scams are all too common. Being cautious when you shop online is a smart move, because it’s much easier to prevent fraud and identity theft than it is to recover from one. The key is to always watch where you’re sending your information. Avoid public Wi-Fi and keep an eye out for suspicious emails. Share as little information as possible, change your passwords regularly and check the address bar at any site where you’re shopping.