If you enjoy shopping online, you can get some great deals, save time, and avoid frenzied crowds during the holidays. However, making purchases with the convenience of an Internet connection isn’t without risks.
If someone steals your debit or credit card number, they can go on a shopping spree until you wise up, report the fraud, and change your account numbers. If an identity thief nabs your Social Security number they can open up new accounts or loans in your name, buy expensive stuff, and leave you with past due bills and a botched credit report.
Here are 6 easy tips that will keep you safe from cybercrime:
Tip #1: Shop Using a Secure Connection
When you go online in a public place, like a coffee shop or library, remember that hackers who share the Wi-Fi connection can track the web sites you visit and what you type. That’s why it’s dangerous to make online purchases or enter any private information on an unsecure connection. Instead, do your shopping from a secure connection at home.
Another option is to make purchases using your mobile phone—or to tether a device to your phone—because mobile data is encrypted, which makes it much safer than a public Wi-Fi connection.
Tip #2: Purchase from Trusted Web Sites
When you find something you want to buy online, consider the reputation of the web site. If you’re unfamiliar with the company or aren’t sure if it’s safe, don’t make a purchase just because the price is low.
Also, don’t follow a link in an email to an online store because it could be controlled by a cyber-criminal who simply wants your confidential data. Type the web site address directly into your browser to make sure you’re going to the right site.
Tip #3: Use Unique Passwords
If you need to create an online account to make a purchase from a web site, be sure to create a new, unique password. As tempting as it is to use the same password over and over for all your online accounts, it’s very dangerous. A thief who steals one password puts all your accounts at risk.
You can use a password protection software that generates strong passwords and safely stores them, so all you need to remember is one master password.
Tip #4: Look for Data Encryption
Once you load up a web site’s shopping cart, make sure that you enter your personal data, like your address and credit card number on an encrypted web page. Encryption is a security measure that scrambles your information while it’s in cyber space and requires a key to unscramble it on the receiving end.
You’ll know a web page is safe when the “http” in the web address changes to “https” (the “s” stands for secure). Also, look for a locked padlock icon on the page that you can click for additional security information.
Tip #5: Use a Credit Card
When you make online purchases, always use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards offer much more protection if someone steals your number and makes fraudulent purchases without your knowledge.
If you’re uncomfortable entering your credit card number on a web site, don’t swear off online shopping. Some card issuers offer virtual credit cards, which are designed to be used online in place of your real credit card number. A virtual card has a temporary number that can only be used once or with a specific merchant, so a criminal would be out of luck if they stole it. You can also try a service such as eBillMe, which allows you to shop online without a credit card.
Tip #6: Review Your Account Statements
It’s important to review each of your bank and credit card account statements at least once a month. Match your debit and credit card receipts to make sure that you were charged the right amount and that there are no fraudulent charges.
More Tips to Stay Safe from Cyber Crime
Though there’s no guarantee that you can avoid becoming the victim of a cybercrime, being able to detect and report fraudulent activity right away is the key to making sure that it never hurts your finances. For an added layer of protection, you can set up account alerts that will send you a text message or email any time a purchase is made on your account. That way you’ll always know if a thief has stolen your information and you can stop them in their tracks.
In 6 Simple Tools to Protect Your Privacy you’ll get more tips to stay safe, plus you can listen to or download my interview with an identity theft expert who teaches individuals and businesses how to protect themselves from this rapidly growing crime.
Photo credit: Don Hankins