Last year, Americans spent $450 billion in online stores, 10.3 percent more than they did in 2012. Online sales are a massive growth area, with Internet sales increasing more than twice as fast as overall retail sales. Internet stores make shopping so easy, bringing the retail experience into our homes, our workplaces, and anywhere else we browse at any time of the day or night. However, the ease of online shopping can also make us complacent. Remember the following tips next time you prepare to make an online purchase.
1. Shop with Companies You Know
It’s smart to stick with well-known online retailers and major stores when shopping online. These typically have comprehensive security measures to keep your transactions safe.
If your heart is set on a product on a website you don’t know, do a little research on the site to make sure that it’s a reputable online outlet. There are review sites that give star ratings and comments for a variety of online outlets. Low star ratings are a clue that a site is best avoided.
Also make sure that you’re shopping where you think you are. Some scammers have been known to establish copycat websites which have a misspelled URL address or use a different top-level domain. They might seem to offer great deals, but these are simply a ploy to encourage you to share your information. Cast a critical eye over the site before you reach for your credit card.
2. Look for the Padlock
At a bare minimum, the sites you shop from should have secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption. You can recognize this if the page where you enter your card details has an URL starting with HTTPS://. A padlock icon will also appear, either in the status bar at the bottom of your browser or next to the URL address. Unless you can see both these security features, keep your card details to yourself.
3. Beware of Public Wi-Fi
In January this year, Americans used smartphones and tablet apps more than personal computers to access the Internet for the first time ever. This milestone heralded a shift that’s been coming for some time. Mobile browsing is becoming the norm, and so is mobile shopping. However, this practice can bring a host of new security risks.
People planning on shopping securely on their mobile devices should carefully consider their Wi-Fi connection. Public Wi-Fi can put your card details at jeopardy, so make sure you only shop on a private network that’s password-protected. A virtual private network, or VPN, will offer an extra layer of protection.
4. Protect Your Gadgets
Whether you’ll shopping on a mobile device, desktop, or laptop, it’s important to protect your device. Cases of malware are at record highs, with 15 million new samples appearing in the first quarter of 2014 at a staggering rate of more than 160,000 new samples every day. Anti-virus programs are still one of the best ways to protect your technology against the threat of malware, viruses, and identity theft.
Install software updates when you’re prompted. These often include extra security features that will make your devices safer to use.
Also make sure you password-protect your devices and various online accounts. It’s safest to use complex passwords made up of capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using the names of your pets or family members, your birthday, your home address, or other obvious choices as thieves can easily guess these.
5. Shop with Credit
While you can shop online with some debit cards, it’s safer to choose credit. Federal law protects credit card users from fraud by limiting individual liability to just $50. Some generous card issuers, including all Visa and MasterCard issuers, even waive this $50 fee or pay it themselves to reward your loyalty.
It’s also a good idea to open a credit card exclusively for online transactions. This will make it easier to detect unusual activity that occurs as a result of an online breach. Some card issuers also offer one-time virtual card numbers which can be used safely for single transactions.
With the above tips in mind, your online shopping experience can be as safe as it is satisfying.