Online Shopping Security

Seven best practices to increase your online shopping security this holiday season.

It’s Cyber Monday! That means that people across the country are clicking links to deals in emails, following notifications to business’ websites, and hitting “confirm payment” in the checkout browser. Online shopping is convenient in our busy world, with a nice brown box showing up at our doors within two days. When you hit “checkout,” do you ever stop to think about the security behind it all? Online shopping security is an important aspect to remember as we shop online. We compiled a list of seven best practices to increase your online shopping security throughout the new year.

Seven Best Practices for Online Shopping Security

1. Don’t fall for too good to be true deals

When it comes to shopping online during the holiday season, advertisements bombard us. Most people are looking for the best deal on the items they’re purchasing. The internet has given us advanced tools to compare retail prices, find coupons, and more. If you come across an advertisement that seems “too good to be true,” it probably is. Be vigilant to protect yourself from false advertising scams. Make sure that if you do find an amazing deal that the seller is a verified, reputable business. 

The same is said for any advertising coming in via email or text messaging. Phishing and smishing are attack vectors that try to get you to follow links or give up sensitive information. When you receive these types of communications, check for the warning signs of a phishing scam. Never click on links; instead, go directly to the retailer’s website to find the promoted sale.

2. When checking out, go for credit over debit

So you’ve found and filled up your cart with everything you need from a verified, trustworthy business. Head to the checkout and start filling out your shipping and payment information. Retailers have different options for payment, but how do you make the most secure choice? Every retailer you give your card information to has a responsibility to keep that sensitive information stored securely. If you decide to pay by card, pick your credit card over your debit card.

Why the push for credit? There are many benefits to using your credit card, especially if the retailer has a data breach in which payment information is exposed. If you used a debit card in this situation, hackers have direct access to your bank account. Credit card companies have more legal protection against fraudulent activity. If you can prove fraudulent activity on your credit card, the credit card company fights to get the money lost back. If you can prove fraudulent activity on your debit card, you fight to get your money back. The liability for fraudulent transactions on debit versus credit cards can also be another reason to choose credit at checkout. There are other secure payment methods, such as using trusted third-party payment processors, like PayPal. To push your payment security further, do not have these retailers “remember” your card information.

3. Keep your private information private

If you are in the checkout process and they seem to be asking for more information than necessary, this could be a sign of fraudulent activity. Legitimate businesses won’t ask for your sensitive personally identifiable information. Personally identifiable information, or PII, is any information used to identify an individual, or in this case, you. PII is sensitive information, including your social security number, driver’s license number, biometric information, account passwords, and more.

If you find yourself thinking, “Why would they need this information?” that is your sign that they probably do not need it. Even if a legitimate business is requesting information you don’t feel comfortable giving out, it’s up to you to determine if you want to complete the transaction. When it comes to your personal data, you are the last line of defense. 

4. Monitor accounts for fraudulent activity

After you place online orders or purchase items in-store, you should keep receipts for your records. It may seem cumbersome to keep paper copies or screenshot emails, but this documentation can help you in the long run. Keeping a close eye on your accounts will help you spot fraudulent transactions. By keeping your receipts during this high-purchase period, you have proof that these transactions were not you. Closely monitor your bank account transactions and credit card statements. At the end of the holiday season, your receipts should all balance out with your accounts.

After you securely save your receipts, make sure you’re tracking your packages. Most reputable retailers will send you shipping and tracking information. You can sign up for text message updates and alerts about your packages. That ensures that if your email says delivered and you never received a package, you can contact the proper authorities. Keeping your receipts and shipping information can also prove a scam occurred.

5. Only purchase from trusted, reputable retailers

Since we’ve talked about scams a bit, this is your reminder that you should only purchase from trusted, reputable retailers. That ensures that the websites you are browsing on are secured. That will increase the likelihood that a data breach will not occur, keeping your payment information safe. When you are on a retailer website, be sure that the beginning of the URL is “HTTPS.” That ensures that the website’s connection is secured and encrypted.

If you find yourself on a website that seems fraudulent or you have proof of being scammed, report this to the proper authorities. Be sure to contact your financial institution or credit card company to freeze or monitor your account for other fraudulent activity.

6. Step up your account security

One of the best ways to shop securely online this holiday season is to implement cybersecurity best practices on all your accounts. When you create passwords: make them random, long, and use different character sets. The best password practice besides strength is to use a unique password for each account. Although it may seem easy to use one password for everything, creating unique passwords can be easy when you use a password manager to copy and paste them when logging in. If one of your accounts gets hacked or there is a data breach, having unique passwords will prevent any other account of yours from getting hacked. In the long run, the couple of extra seconds of creating unique passwords will secure your account and help prevent fraudulent activity. 

When you’re creating an account, if offered, always enable multi-factor authentication. This extra step is a huge security benefit in the long run. Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, needs a password and another identifier to ensure you are who you say you are. That can be different attributes, such as a code emailed or texted to you. MFA puts another layer of security between you and hackers because even if they get your password, they probably won’t have access to the next authentication step. 

7. Everything comes back to your Wi-Fi, avoid public networks

At Wildcard, we talk about Wi-Fi security a lot. That’s because as a society, we always want to be connected. But this doesn’t mean we should compromise our security to do so. Most public wi-fi networks are unsecured. Unsecured means that anyone would be able to view all of your online traffic. So any password, credit card number, address, and other information you type in can be seen by attackers. That is why public wi-fi is a cybersecurity concern. You wouldn’t freely tell a random stranger your credit card number, which is what you’re doing if you’re online shopping from your favorite cafe. 

Our first suggestion would be to use a private hotspot when shopping on the go this holiday season. That uses the data from your cell phone to create a secured network on your other devices. If you have to use public wi-fi to shop, check bank accounts, or view any PII, be sure to use a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, masks your IP address and encrypts your online traffic, making your online shopping on public networks secure. 

While you are scouring the internet this Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season, be sure to keep these tips in mind. It’s up to you to determine what businesses you will support and give your private information to store. Stay vigilant to look for signs of suspicious and fraudulent activity.