The holiday shopping season is here. For many, that means taking to the internet to take advantage of online deals and steer clear of crowded stores. However, with the convenience of online shopping comes risks to your personal and financial data.
Cyber thieves are working overtime during this busy shopping period to try to steal credentials, gain access to accounts, or trick consumers into providing sensitive information. By following some key cybersecurity best practices, you can enjoy safer online shopping this holiday season and year-round.
Here are 19 vital cybersecurity tips to protect your data and money when shopping online.
19 Cybersecurity Tips for Online Shopping: Protect Your Data and Money
1. Double-Check the Website’s Legitimacy:
While “https://” and the padlock symbol are strong indicators of a secure website, cybercriminals can sometimes use counterfeit SSL certificates to create fraudulent websites that appear legitimate. To further verify a website’s legitimacy:
- Check the website’s domain name for any misspellings or slight variations from the official website.
- Look for contact information, such as a physical address and phone number, to ensure the website’s authenticity.
- Read reviews and check the reputation of the website or the seller before making a purchase, especially if it’s an unfamiliar or lesser-known site.
- Be cautious of unsolicited emails or links that redirect you to shopping websites, as these can lead to phishing scams.
2. Check for “https”
The first step in ensuring the security of a website is to examine the URL (web address). Secure websites should always begin with “https://” instead of just “http://”. The additional “s” in “https” stands for “secure,” and it indicates that the website has implemented encryption measures to protect the data exchanged between you and the site.
When you see “https://” in the URL, it means that the information you provide, such as credit card details, login credentials, or personal information, is encrypted before being sent to the website’s server. This encryption makes it extremely difficult for cybercriminals to intercept and decipher your data, providing a crucial layer of protection.
3. Look for a Lock Symbol
In addition to the “https://” prefix, most modern web browsers provide a visual indicator to confirm the website’s security. You should see a small padlock symbol, typically located to the left of the website address in the browser’s address bar. This padlock is a reassuring sign that the website has a valid SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate in place.
An SSL certificate is a digital certificate issued by a trusted authority that verifies the website’s authenticity and ensures the confidentiality and integrity of the data transferred between your browser and the website. When you see this lock symbol, it signifies that your connection is encrypted, and the website has undergone a level of scrutiny to confirm its legitimacy.
4. Be Wary of Misspelled Brand Names
Cybersecurity experts have identified a common tactic used by cybercriminals to deceive consumers: creating counterfeit shopping websites with web addresses that are very similar to popular brands or legitimate websites. These malicious actors are well aware that many users might make minor typographical errors when entering web addresses. As a result, they register domain names with slight misspellings or variations, hoping that unsuspecting consumers will inadvertently land on their fraudulent sites.
For example, they might create a website like “www.amazoon.com” instead of the legitimate “www.amazon.com” or “www.paypa1.com” instead of “www.paypal.com.” To protect yourself against such deceptive practices, it’s essential to pay close attention to the website’s URL when shopping online. Always double-check the web address to ensure it precisely matches the legitimate site’s domain. If the website address seems even slightly off or unusual, exercise caution and do not proceed.
5. Verify Legit Contact Information
One of the hallmarks of a reputable online business is the presence of valid and easily accessible contact information. Legitimate online retailers and websites will typically provide a telephone number, physical address, and other means of contact to establish trust with their customers. These contact details serve as essential indicators that the website is not a scam operation.
When shopping on an unfamiliar website or from a lesser-known retailer, take a few moments to locate and verify the contact information. Here’s what you should look for:
- Telephone Number: Ensure that the website lists a working telephone number. You can even go a step further by calling the number to confirm its validity. Scammers often avoid providing real phone numbers or use non-working ones.
- Physical Address: Check for a physical address, which should be a legitimate business location. Verify the address through an online map service to see if it matches the information provided on the website.
- Other Contact Details: Some websites may also provide additional means of contact, such as an email address or a live chat option. These can be useful for addressing any concerns or questions you may have.
By confirming the presence of legitimate contact information, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to online scams. Scammers are less likely to invest in maintaining authentic contact details, so this simple verification step can help protect your personal and financial information.
6. Create Unique, Complex Passwords
Unique passwords are vital for every single online account, especially for email, financial services, and shopping websites. You can use a password generator or any online tool to generate strong passwords for your account. You can save strong passwords by using password manager it is very simple and useful.
How to Make Strong Passwords
- At least 12 characters long mixing upper/lower case, numbers, symbols
- Avoid dictionary words or personal info (But this is optional, sometimes hacker hard to guess)
- Unique for each account
- Change periodically
- The example you can use to easily remember: youname@school2001 (David@school2021 or David@home1999.
Using a password manager helps generate and organize strong, randomized credentials for all accounts.
7. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your online security. MFA works by requiring two or more credentials to log in to an account, going beyond just a password. This protects your accounts even if your password is compromised.
The most common type of MFA sends a one-time passcode to your smartphone or generates a code via an authentication app. After entering your username and password, you must enter this additional code to successfully log in. This means that even someone who knows your password will not be able to access your account unless they also have access to your phone or authentication app.
You should enable MFA on any sensitive accounts whenever possible, especially accounts like email, banking, social media, and any others that contain private information or access to your identity. With so many data breaches exposing passwords these days, relying on passwords alone is too risky. Activating MFA locks down access through an additional layer of verification.
Most major providers offer MFA as an option, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, and financial institutions. Take the time to explore your account settings and enable MFA where available. If ever given the choice between two-factor and two-step verification, always choose two-factor as it requires two actual “factors” – i.e. both a password and a generated code from a separate device.
Enabling MFA is usually quick and simple. In most cases it just involves scanning a QR code with your smartphone camera to link your device. This extra minute or two to set up could end up saving you from a devastating account breach down the road. Your online security is worth taking basic precautions like MFA. Turn it on wherever possible!
8. Be Wary of Deals That Seem Too Good
In the age of online shopping, we all appreciate a great deal. However, when you come across deals that seem too good to be true, it’s essential to exercise caution. Cybercriminals often lure unsuspecting consumers with offers that promise significant discounts on high-end, name-brand products. Here’s why you should be cautious:
- Scam Alerts: Unrealistically low prices on popular products are a common tactic used by scammers to attract potential victims. They know that people are drawn to bargains, and this ploy is designed to exploit that desire.
- Counterfeit or Nonexistent Products: In many cases, these enticing deals lead to counterfeit or non-existent products. You may end up paying for something that never arrives, or receive a subpar imitation of the genuine item.
- Data Harvesting: Some scam websites are designed not only to take your money but also to collect your personal and financial information for fraudulent purposes.
To protect yourself, always approach deals that seem too good with skepticism. Compare prices across different reputable retailers, read reviews, and make informed decisions rather than rushing into a tempting offer.
9. Research Unfamiliar Sites
When encountering an attractive deal from a retailer you’re not familiar with, conducting quick research can help you distinguish between legitimate opportunities and potential scams. Here are some steps to follow:
- Check for Reviews: Legitimate online retailers often have customer reviews and ratings. Look for reviews on the product and the retailer itself. Be cautious if there are no reviews or if they seem overly positive, as they could be fake.
- Look for Trust Signals: Trusted consumer sites, such as the Better Business Bureau or consumer protection agencies, may provide information about the legitimacy of the retailer.
- Contact Information: Ensure that the website provides clear and accessible contact information, including a physical address and phone number. Attempt to contact them before making a purchase to confirm their legitimacy.
- Secure Payment Options: Use secure payment methods, such as credit cards, which offer some level of fraud protection. Avoid wire transfers or payment methods that lack dispute resolution options.
By taking a few extra minutes to research unfamiliar websites and deals, you can safeguard your financial and personal information and avoid falling victim to online scams.
10. Price Check Against Other Retailers
The internet has created a boon of options for online shopping, but also fertile ground for scammers setting up fake ecommerce stores. A common red flag is discounted prices that seem too good to be true compared to listings on other legitimate retail sites. Before making a purchase from an unfamiliar site, take time to cross-reference and vet the pricing.
For example, if you come across a store advertising the latest model iPhone for 50% below retail, that should raise suspicion. Check what the current price is on manufacturer websites, big box retailers, carrier sites, and other well-established marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart. Compile a list of prices from major competing sellers.
If the price you found is drastically lower than everywhere else by a large margin, it is likely a scam attempting to bait customers with unrealistic discounts that are actually big warning signs. On the other hand, smaller 10-20% variances could just reflect normal price fluctuations in an competitive market.
Bottom line is if an online price looks disproportionately discounted compared to both big name stores and niche competitors, approach with extreme caution. Never take such vendor claims at face value. Do your due diligence price checking before ever considering handing payment details over to an unknown website. Saving some money is not worth having your identity stolen or bank account drained as the aftermath. The extra few minutes to cross-reference prices could save you untold headaches down the road.
11. Beware of Social Media Advertisements & Links
Social media platforms have become hotbeds for cybercriminals and scammers promoting malicious links and fake online stores. The nature of social platforms makes it easy to create slick ads and posts to hoodwink users, so special caution is warranted around any calls-to-action.
Scam social media ads often appear strategically placed in feeds and may mimic actual brands with similar names or branding. They will direct targets to external sites to harvest login credentials or credit card information. These external phishing sites can be disguised as charitable donations, free giveaways, celebrity gossip, or online shopping.
Beware just because a link or product comes from a trending hashtag or seems endorsed by major public figures – oftentimes these are impersonators looking to exploit trust. Even ads that appear legitimate could redirect to shady sites post-click. The key is maintaining vigilance.
Research any brand names you don’t recognize before engaging. Check site registrations against public databases. See if discounts are unrealistic compared to normal retailers. Look for indicators of security like “https” URLs. If you remain uncertain, it’s better to err conservatively rather than click dubious links or divulge personal information.
With social platforms home to billions of users, hackers have evolved sophisticated psychological tactics to socially engineer victims through ads and posts. Stay skeptical of anything unsolicited before interacting. Running quick verification checks could protect you from becoming their next victim.
12. Avoid Debit Cards When Possible And Use Credit Card
When making online purchases, using credit cards is generally safer than relying on your debit card and directly tapping into bank account funds. The reason boils down to superior fraud protections legally guaranteed for credit cards that debit transactions lack.
If a hacker manages to steal and compromise debit card information, they have direct pipeline access to drain money from the associated bank account. Calling the bank to report fraud and sort everything out also takes time, during which account balances may be wiped out. Any fraudulent debit charges in the meantime would likely need to be covered out-of-pocket.
With credit cards however, detected fraud triggers a halt on spending right away without pulling cash out immediately. While banks investigate disputed charges, accounts remain frozen avoiding further damages. In addition, federal laws cap personal liability for fraudulent credit charges at $50 maximum in most cases.
Banks are also simply more motivated to pursue fraud cases on credit products because it impacts their bottom line directly if unpaid by consumers. Debit card protections legally differ, varying more case-by-case.
So when shopping online, stick to credit cards over debit where you can. The risks posed by potential hacks or data breaches are much lower thanks to stronger consumer shielding. Pay off balances each month and your credit card becomes a powerful fraud bulwark with incentive for issuers to flag and resolve problems promptly. Debit cards may seem more convenient, but credit truly does offer greater cybersecurity – so rely on them for purchases whenever possible.
13. Never Provide Sensitive Data Over Email/Calls
Cybercriminals are increasingly exploiting email, phone calls, and even text messages to trick victims into handing over sensitive personal information. By impersonating banks, government agencies, or businesses, they try convincing targets the requests are legitimate. However, real organizations will never initiate unexpected contact asking for full account details, SSNs, or identity documents.
If you receive any sudden calls or emails asking you directly to verify private account numbers, credit card info, your Social Security number, or requesting scans/photos of IDs like driver’s licenses, passports, or utility bills, exercise extreme caution before responding. No legitimate business will solicit sensitive data out of the blue in this manner.
Standard procedure is directing customers to online portals they are already registered with rather than email forms or human phone operators. So unprompted contacts should immediately raise red flags, no matter how official names, numbers, or logos appear in the sender information.
Resist any pressure tactics insisting you will face dire consequences if sensitive data is not provided immediately. Real agencies provide ample communication with confirmation letters long before any deadlines for action arrive. Cybercriminals count on sowing confusion and urgency to undermine critical thinking before stealing your identity or clearing out accounts.
Save yourself prolonged headaches down the road by simply refusing to directly provide personal sensitive information over hastily delivered emails, texts, calls. No matter who the contacts claim to be represent, politely decline and independently double check where necessary through official numbered channels like on verified company or government websites. A few extra minutes protecting your privacy now could save untold troubles in fraud aftermaths.
14. Beware of Fraudulent Delivery Notifications
Hackers are constantly getting more crafty at impersonating trusted sources with fraudulent notifications, including major shipping carriers. They send realistic looking emails or texts claiming package deliveries require immediate action before providing phishing links to steal login credentials or install malware. Always verify any delivery claims directly through official channels before clicking included links or providing information.
Be especially suspicious of notifications for packages you do not recall ordering or from retailers you don’t recognize. But also keep guard up even when sender identities seem correct – spoofed corporate logos and email formatting continues getting harder to decipher from authentic messages.
Hover over rather than directly click on any convenient tracking or “View Delivery Update” links. Inspect sender addresses for typos teasing brand names and confirm destination URLs begin with “https” indicating encryption. If still unsure, log into your carrier’s website directly through your browser bar or their mobile app to view latest notifications. Avoid volunteered links promising convenience if legitimacy seems questionable upon closer inspection.
Also resist any pressure tactics stressing dire consequences if information is not provided immediately through attached links. Real carriers always offer multiple days before items get returned to sender, for example.
Stay proactive validating online deliveries independently rather than getting lured by spoofed notifications. Taking a few quick minutes to confirm validity and safely access real shipping portal logins protects you from falling victim to data theft or financial fraud. If something seems suspicious, listen to your gut and redirect through official channels.
15. Keep Devices Clean of Malware
Malicious software known as malware poses one of the most insidious threats to online security – often operating undetected in the background to steal data and credentials. Without proper safeguards, malware lingering on devices can secretly record everything from online shopping logins to bank account access. Protect yourself by ensuring thorough anti-malware practices.
Make sure any device used for accessing sensitive accounts and websites maintains updated antivirus software to regularly scan for risks. Enable automatic background scans that actively monitor for malware infiltration. Also keep devices vigilant against threats by promptly installing the latest security patches and operating system updates whenever available.
Exercise caution before downloading random files or programs which may introduce malware by tricking you into permissions. Video codecs, game mods, adult content, and even ad-laden mobile apps commonly distribute malware. Beware unsolicited pop-up windows urging software installations as well.
Practice safe browsing habits and avoid obviously dubious websites altogether. Never enter passwords or personal information on devices with suspected infections. Wipe systems completely or conduct OS reinstalls in dire cases before conducting sensitive online activities again.
Remember that infections can remain dormant for long periods before activating to compromise accounts. So maintain devices as fortified malware shields on constant alert via automatic monitoring and patching safeguards. With vigilance, the threat of credentials or financial data theft can be drastically reduced.
16. Install Reputable Security Software
Robust security software is essential for guarding devices against sophisticated cyberthreats like malware, viruses, and spyware that try to infiltrate and steal sensitive personal data. Protect yourself by deploying reputable anti-malware and antivirus suites to actively monitor system defenses across all endpoint devices.
On traditional computing devices like desktop PCs or laptops, install comprehensive packages combining antivirus, anti-spyware, firewalls, and other layered security protocols for defense-in-depth against breaches. Mainstream cybersecurity vendors like Norton, McAfee, and Avast all offer thorough endpoint protection platforms designed to proactively address known and emerging attack vectors.
For mobile devices, leverage app versions of cybersecurity tools tailored to guard against mobile-centric threats. Mobile antivirus apps provide system monitoring, vulnerability assessments, data encryption, and other safeguards while maintaining low resource footprints. Enable automatic scanning and support real-time protection features to catch threats during normal device usage too.
Evaluate product testing and reviews across institutions like AV-TEST to select advanced cybersecurity software meeting rigorous standards of malware detection and system performance benchmarks. Prioritize solutions offering web filtering, application control, and data encryption capabilities as well for comprehensive layered security against potential exposure routes.
Never rely solely on basic outdated or built-in protections alone to defend valuable data in today’s escalating threat climate. Deploying robust third-party security software with current threat intelligence and advanced AI analytics should anchor fundamental cyberdefense strategies on all devices interacting with sensitive accounts or information access. The costs are minor compared to damages of potential identity theft or financial fraud otherwise.
17. Enable Automatic Updates
As soon as new vulnerabilities in common software are discovered, hackers work diligently to weaponize these security gaps before patches are distributed. Staying ahead of the threat landscape requires keeping devices, programs, and mobile apps updated with the latest fixes as soon as patches become available. Make this easy by enabling automatic updates everywhere possible.
For operating systems like Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android – configure devices to automatically install important security patches and version upgrades in the background without requiring complex prompts or permissions. Preemptively updating stops attackers from compromising known flaws that remain vulnerable otherwise.
Likewise enable automatic update options across all individual software programs and mobile apps with available preferences, especially web browsers, media players, document editors and PDF readers which face abundant threats. The wider the applications kept updated, the less likely cybercriminals can slip malware through.
Some update processes may require periodic restarts to fully take effect. Plan accordingly around active working hours but resist any urges to continually postpone installation prompts beyond a reasonable grace period. The disruptions of a quick reboot pale in comparison to damages inflicted by successful security breaches and data theft.
Taking a few simple steps to ensure device ecosystems self-maintain the latest protections without ongoing manual oversight eliminates one of the most preventable attack vectors exploited in a majority of breaches. Get ahead of incidents before they occur by automating software updates using built-in configuration tools.
18. Never Shop on Public Wi-Fi
The convenience of public Wi-Fi at coffee shops or hotels comes with serious security risks for online shopping, banking, or accessing any accounts with sensitive information. Connecting to public hotspots potentially exposes all data you send over the network for eavesdroppers to intercept. Never enter usernames, passwords or credit cards while relying on public connections.
The core vulnerabilities stem from a lack of encryption allowing nearby hackers to view web traffic relatively easily using packet sniffing techniques. Cafe Wi-Fi users on the same public network become easy targets, compromising not just account details but enable future data theft.
Instead, default to exclusively relying on secure private internet connections for any activity involving personal data, especially money-related transactions. Home Wi-Fi networks should run modern WPA2 encryption at minimum, or upgrade routers to the latest WPA3 standard for optimal safety. Within range, connect phones and laptops to reliable cellular hotspots over public Wi-Fi as well.
For added precaution, leverage a trustworthy VPN provider to establish secure tunnels protecting information even on public networks. VPNs encrypt traffic between your devices and websites to shield against local network snooping attempts. Just remember VPN protection only applies while actively connected – regular precautions accessing accounts still necessary on hotel and cafe networks themselves.
Ultimately avoiding any shopping, banking or account logins over public Wi-Fi altogether remains the only sure way to safeguard sensitive data from potential eavesdropping. Never transmit critical information or make purchases on any hotspot without using a VPN or other form of encryption.
19. Monitor Financial Accounts Frequently
Vigilantly monitoring bank, credit card and other financial accounts frequently makes identifying any fraudulent charges quicker to limit damage and recover lost funds faster.
Enroll in Account Alerts: Set up transaction alerts via email or text messages to get automatically notified whenever balances change or new charges occur so fraudulent activity is spotted within hours, not weeks.
Check Statements Weekly: Get in consistent habit of checking statements at least weekly even for accounts without active alerts so any potential issues turn up sooner.
Periodically Check Credit Reports: Review full credit history reports every few months for signs of accounts illegally opened in your name which could indicate wider identity theft requiring additional investigation.
As the volume of digital holiday shopping continues rising dramatically, criminals work overtime to illegally profit off distracted consumers through an array of social engineering tricks, retail website scams and device malware campaigns. However, by following security best practices around verifying merchant legitimacy, using strong unique account credentials across all sites, monitoring financial statements routinely, questioning unsolicited contacts, installing protective software on personal devices and thinking twice before providing sensitive data, shoppers can balance convenience and cyber safety this holiday season. Maintaining awareness of the latest online fraud trends and proactively applying added safeguards remains the best defense against evolving cyber threats when enjoying the ease of ecommerce.