There was a time when shopping from home was the height of convenience and luxury. Eventually, the idea of just picking up your phone and buying a tub of laundry detergent was so commonplace it hardly seemed notable.
And of course, nowadays making purchases online isn’t entirely about convenience. If you’re looking to limit face-to-face contact and reduce your potential exposure to contagious diseases, online shopping can certainly help.
But shopping online does create an entirely different set of risks – risks to your identity and your financial security. The basics of safe online shopping have remained fairly consistent in the past decade-plus, but it’s always a good idea to refresh yourself and ensure that you’re following all the best practices. If you’re making purchases online, make sure you’re taking these steps every time.
KEEP YOUR DEVICE AND YOUR BROWSER UP-TO-DATE
Malware is constantly evolving. To stay ahead of the curve, software developers are continually updating operating systems and browsers, shoring up weaknesses and vulnerabilities. You may miss out on some of these important tweaks if you’re not updating to the latest version, so stay alert for updates and install them as they become available.
USE ANTI-VIRUS PROTECTION AND SCAN YOUR DEVICE REGULARLY
Most modern anti-virus programs update automatically and runs scans in the background on a regular basis, so you won’t have to do anything on your own. But if for some reason there is no anti-virus protection on your device, or if you need to schedule scans manually, be sure to take care of that, or else you may risk malware infiltrating your device and exposing your personal information.
ONLY MAKE PURCHASES WITH TRUSTED VENDORS AND THROUGH SECURED WEBSITES
If you’re making an online purchase with a new vendor for the first time, take a quick moment to do a little research. Check reviews on third-party websites to see if others have had positive experiences. You may also want to check their listing on the Better Business Bureau.
Once you feel comfortable, be sure to verify that your transaction is being processed through a secure website. Just check the full website address – if it starts with “https” the website is secure.
PAY WITH A CREDIT CARD OR TRUSTED DIGITAL PAYMENT PLATFORM
The last thing you want is for thieves to get access to your bank account. Should your credit card number be compromised, you’ll have the ability to dispute and likely reverse any charges with the card issuer. Digital payment platforms like Paypal offer similar security features.
For an extra layer of security, avoid allowing vendors or your browser to save payment data.
USE STRONG, UNIQUE ACCOUNT PASSWORDS
The stronger and more complex your password, the harder it becomes for a hacker to guess their way to the correct combination. Meanwhile, using unique passwords for all of your accounts protects you in the event that one of your accounts is compromised – either locally (someone saw your password) or via a data breach. It’s no fun to have one of your accounts compromised, but it’s much worse to have all of them compromised, one after the other.
USE TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION WHEN POSSIBLE
Two factor authentication adds an additional security layer when accessing accounts or completing certain transactions. One of the most common forms is receiving a text message (to the cellphone number associated with your account) with a special code you need to enter before you can continue. If someone nabs your password, but not your cellphone, they won’t be able to access your account.
AVOID USING PUBLIC COMPUTERS OR UNSECURED WI-FI NETWORKS
If you can’t vouch for the security on a device, don’t use it to submit or share sensitive personal information. The same holds true for public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. When making online purchases, it’s safer to use a secured personal Wi-Fi network or your cellular network.
TRACK PURCHASES, SAVE RECEIPTS, AND REVIEW YOUR BANK STATEMENTS REGULARLY
Keep a record of what you bought and take a look at your creditor/payment accounts often to verify that there are no strange charges showing up. You should also verify that the amount on your receipts matches what came out of your account.
NEVER EMAIL SENSITIVE DATA
Email just isn’t an especially secure way to transmit sensitive data (like credit card numbers). Be wary if a vendor ever asks for you to complete a transaction via email.
Online shopping isn’t the wave of the future – it’s how we conduct business in the here and now. New threats will always emerge, but as long as you do your best to stay safe, you should be able to shop without (too much) worry.