Will Rogers is famous for his saying, “Common sense ain’t common.”
And if truer words were ever spoken, I have yet to find them.
While many people take precautions when they shop online, the Covid-19 pandemic has elevated that need to new levels. The percentage of people shopping online today is up, signaling a continuing shift in how many of us buy goods and services. Coupled with an unprecedented closure of brick-and-mortar businesses, that trend is expected to continue.
Even before the pandemic, secure online shopping was a rising concern, whether related to payment fraud, ID theft, data hacking, and other criminal activities.
That’s not going away.
According to a report by Juniper Research, online payment fraud losses will increase by more than 50% between 2020 and 2024. That was before the pandemic was figured in.
Now, according to Nick Maynard, a lead analyst at Juniper, “We anticipate that this growth will accelerate to over 70% over the next four years, compared with the 52% we outlined in March. This is mainly due to the increased usage of e-commerce during the pandemic, which has also generated a rise in fraud.”
While technology continues to improve, the biggest defense against online security issues is most often common sense.
In our research for this article, we reached out to a company we trust—lifelock.com—and found some solid strategies that are worth a few minutes of your time.
1. Shop at websites you trust
Some businesses on the web are fabricated by people who just want your credit card information and other personal details. Play it safe and consider doing online business only with retailers you trust and have shopped with before to play it safe.
2. Check out the business
Did you find the perfect purchase on an unfamiliar website? Break out your detective skills whenever you want to buy something from a new merchant. Does the company interact with a social media following? What do its customer reviews say? Does it have a history of scam reports or complaints at the Better Business Bureau? Take it one step further by contacting the business. If there’s no email address, phone number, or address for a brick-and-mortar location, that could be a signal that it’s a fake company.
3. Beware rock-bottom prices
If a website offers something that looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Compare prices and pictures of the merchandise at similar websites. Rock-bottom prices could be a red flag that the business doesn’t have those items in stock. The website may exist only to get your personal information. You may find a few loss-leader gems, but is saving a few bucks really worth the worry that you could get ripped off for hundreds of times that amount?
4. Avoid public Wi-Fi
You might be tempted to take your online shopping adventures to a coffee shop for a cup of joe. Keep in mind, Wi-Fi networks use public airwaves. With a little tech know-how and the freely available Wi-Fi password at your favorite cafe, someone can intercept what you’re looking at on the web. Shopping online usually means giving out information that an identity thief would love to grab, including your name and credit card information. Bottom line: It’s never a good idea to shop online or log in to any website while you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.
5. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Still can’t resist the lure of shopping online while sipping that peppermint latte? If you must shop online on public Wi-Fi, consider installing and using a VPN on all mobile devices and computers before connecting to any Wi-Fi network. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your smartphones and computers and the VPN server. Think of it as a secure tunnel your Internet traffic travels through while you browse the web, making your data safer from interception by nearby hackers.
6. Create strong passwords
If someone has the password to your account, they can log in, change the shipping address, and order things while you get stuck with the bill. Help keep your account safe by locking it with a strong password; “Santa123” won’t do.
Here are some tips on how to create the strongest passwords:
- Use a complex set of lowercase and uppercase numbers, letters, and symbols.
- Don’t use personal information that others can find or guess, such as birthdates, your kids’ names, or your favorite color.
- Don’t use the same password—however strong—on multiple accounts. Admit it! We are ALL guilty of this one. A data breach at one company could give criminals access to your other, shared-password accounts.
7. Check out website security
That small lock icon in the top corner of your URL field tells you that the web page you’re on has privacy protection installed. The URL will start with “https.” These websites mask and transfer data you share, typically on pages that ask for passwords or financial information. If you don’t see that lock or the “s” after “http,” the web page isn’t secure. There is no privacy protection attached to these pages, so we suggest you exercise caution before providing your credit card information over these sites.
8. Watch out for email scams
Sometimes something in your email in-box can stir your consumer cravings. For instance, it might be tempting to open an email that promises a “special offer.” But that offer could be special in a bad way. Every one of us has experienced “click regret” at one time or another.
Clicking on emails from unknown senders and unrecognizable sellers could infect your computer with viruses and malware. It’s better to play it safe. Delete them, don’t click on any links, and don’t open attachments from individuals or businesses you are unfamiliar with.
9. Don’t give out too much information
No shopping website will ever need your Social Security number. This should be the most common sense of all common sense tips in the article. But it still bears mentioning. If you’re asked for very personal details, call the customer service line and request whether you can supply other identifying information. Better yet just walk away and find a more well-known, accommodating website for your purchases.
10. Pay with a credit card
Attention shoppers! You’ll usually get the best liability protection—online and offline—when you use a credit card.
If someone racks up unauthorized charges on your credit card, federal regulations say you won’t have to pay while the card company investigates. Most major credit cards offer $0 liability for fraudulent purchases. Keep in mind, your liability for unauthorized charges on your debit card is capped at $50 if you report it within two business days. But if someone uses your account and you don’t report the theft, after 60 days, you may not be reimbursed at all.
You can also try a virtual credit card. Some banks offer this nifty tool that acts as an online version of your card. With a virtual credit card, the issuer will randomly generate a number that’s linked to your account, and you can use it anywhere online and choose when the number expires. It might be best to generate a new number every time you buy something online or shop with a new retailer. Anyone who tries to use that number will be out of luck.
11. Check your statements
Lots of online shopping can add pages to your credit card statements, especially around the holidays. Check your statements for fraudulent charges at least once a week or set up account alerts. When you receive a text or email about a charge, you can check the message and easily recall whether you made the charge.
12. Mind the details
After you make a purchase, keep the receipt, order confirmation number, and postal tracking number in a safe place. If you have a problem with the order, this information will help the merchant resolve the problem.
13. Take action if you don’t get your goods
Call the merchant and provide the details from the information you saved from your original purchase. If the merchant turns out to be fake, or they’re just plain unhelpful, then your credit card provider can help you sort out the problem. Often, they can remove the charge from your statement.
14. Report the company
If you suspect the business is bogus, notify your credit card company about the charge and close your account. File a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC offers an identity theft recovery plan, should you need it.
The bottom line is that your money is YOUR money. You earned it along with the right to spend it as you choose. With a few simple strategies, you can ensure a cyber thief doesn’t rob you of that pleasure.