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How Safe is Shopping Online?


Online shopping has grown tremendously in the last decade, especially in 2020. Digital Commerce 360 estimated that ecommerce in the U.S. grew by a whopping 44% in 2020 compared to 2019.

More online shopping has led to more cybercrime directed at online retailers as well. Tech company Red Points surveyed 150 U.S. ecommerce brands in 2020 and found some important trends about cybercrime:

  • 41% of ecommerce business owners saw an increase in cybercrime
  • 68% of ecommerce business owners said fighting cybercrime was very important to their business
  • 78% of businesses said cybercrime damages their reputation
  • 71% of businesses said counterfeiters are stealing sales

What do those numbers mean for you? Should you still make purchases online?

Online shopping can be secure if you do it properly. Buying products over the Internet isn’t inherently unsafe; the level of security depends on the precautions both you and the online retailer take. If you want to keep shopping online, keep these tips in mind.

Don’t shop on public Wi-Fi

Wait until you get home to make online purchases. Do not shop online when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network. Any time you use public Wi-Fi, avoid using apps or websites that require you to input sensitive information such as your credit card number or passwords. If you have to make a purchase when you’re out and about, at least use a VPN or your mobile data — never public Wi-Fi.

Vet retailers

Before giving an online retailer your credit card number, confirm they’re legitimate. Only buy from online stores you know and trust and be extremely careful when typing in their URL. A typo could mistakenly take you to a look-alike store that just wants to rip you off. If you want to buy from a new retailer, look for reviews from the Better Business Bureau.

Don’t fall for great deals

You know the saying, “If something seems too good to be true it probably is”? That applies to online shopping as well. If you see an ad for an unbelievable deal, think twice before clicking on it, especially on social media. A common scam nowadays is placing a fake ad on Instagram or Facebook promising free products or extremely low prices to catch your attention and entice you to tap or click the ad. The fake website the ad leads to could be malicious, set up to steal your personal information or download malware onto your device. If you see an interesting ad and you’d like to know more, go to the company’s site in a web browser, do not click on the social media ad.

Look for extra payment security steps

Secure and legitimate websites have extra layers of payment security. This layer might be another password, an extra piece of information from you, or features such as “Verified by Visa” for Visa and “SecureCode” for MasterCard.

Use a VPN

To keep your Internet activity safe from snooping hackers while shopping online, use a virtual private network (VPN) each time you make a purchase. A VPN gives you a temporary IP address so it can hide your real one from any website or email you connect with. With a VPN, you won’t let the online retailer or anyone spying on you know your actual IP address.

Create a strong password

Most online stores require you to make an account before purchasing. Do not use the same password for your Sephora account that you use for Nike account or your Best Buy account — or any other account. Make it a random series of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that are nearly impossible to guess. Strong passwords are harder to remember, but a password manager like LastPass will let you store them all securely, for free.

Avoid ‘http’ sites

You should never make purchases on a website with a URL that starts with HTTP. Only use sites with HTTPS. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and it allows web browsers to communicate with web servers. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure and works the same as HTTP, but with encryption. Any information you enter on a website with HTTPS, like a password or credit card number, is encrypted and hackers can’t see it.

Use a credit card

Whenever possible, use a credit card for an online purchase instead of a debit card. Debit cards give sellers direct access to the money in your bank account, whereas as a credit card charges it later. If you use a credit card and end up getting scammed, your credit card company can investigate and also issue you a new card.

Other secure payment methods

To make payment even safer, try using a virtual credit card. Ask your credit card issuer if you can have a temporary card number that’s linked to your account, so it won’t show the retailer your actual credit card details.

Another secure payment option is through a third-party payment system such as PayPal. PayPal is widely accepted at many ecommerce sites and it allows you to make a purchase without the seller seeing your credit card details.

Keep shopping apps up to date

Many of us like to shop from our favorite retailers’ mobile apps rather than a web browser. The app keeps you signed in and saves your payment information, making online shopping even easier. If you purchase anything through an app, make sure it’s the retailer’s real app and not a knock-off, and remember to keep the app up to date. Updates might contain security patches, and outdated apps and programs are one of the top ways scammers can steal your info.

Is online shopping safe? It can be if you’re careful. Since ecommerce is not going away anytime soon, it’ll pay off in the long run to be cautious when making purchases online.

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