Online shopping is becoming a permanent fixture of modern living. There is a growing number of online retailers in most countries. Additionally, different platforms offer e-commerce capabilities from WordPress to Facebook.
In 2017 alone, there is an estimated $2.197 trillion in online retail sales. It is growing from 7.4% in sales from 2016 to 8.2% in 2017. UK, China, and surprisingly, Norway are leading the most e-commerce retail sales.
People shop anything from novelty items to gadgets online. Almost anything can be bought online nowadays. Better shipping methods and cheaper fees make online shopping a more efficient option. Amazon even offers same-day delivery for specific areas. The popularity of online shopping makes it a target for criminals. The exchange of goods and money online creates vulnerabilities. Hackers can take advantage of such opportunities.
Risks of Online Shopping
Online shopping requires trust between seller and buyer. You are exchanging money, goods, and services outside the traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Additionally, most online retailers need personal information such as name, address, and credit card information. These data are at risk from cybercriminals during shopping.
Types of Threats
There are a lot of threats around the Internet. Your vulnerability increases during online shopping. Here are a few:
Fake e-Commerce Sites
Setting up an online store is very easy. Anyone with enough business and technical ability can sell anything online. Platforms such as eBay or Etsy provide a marketplace. It allows anyone to sell without worrying about developing their e-commerce sites.
However, you run the risk of encountering fake sellers online. Some may exist to collect your information. Others may obtain fees but not ship the products. There are cases where customers receive products which are nowhere near the same as the one on their websites. Cybercriminals will make an effort to create legitimate-looking websites to fool you.
E-commerce retailers often need personal information for obvious reasons. They need your credit card information to pay for the products. The shopping portal requires your address for delivery along with your name. This information also uniquely identifies you as a person.
Criminals who manage to get access to such information can steal your identity. They can open bank accounts, apply for loans, and use your credit card information to shop. Data is collected using fake online shops as described above. Phishing also happens through email or social media.
Your financial information and identity are not the only things at risk. Online shopping can also put your computer exposed. Accidentally downloading malware may lead to worse things.
Spyware, adware, and ransomware are just some of the malicious software that may harm your machine. Such applications can collect personal information on your computer. Or it can put your PC hostage for a fee. A lot can happen when you are careless during shopping.
Tips for Safe Online Shopping
So, what can you do to protect yourself while shopping online? Here are a few tips:
Tip 1 - Use Trusted Websites
There are virtually countless online sellers on the Internet. However, it is relatively easy to identify the trusted ones. Major online retailers such as Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Kohl's are trusted. They typically have processes in place for various scenarios during shopping from returns to refunds. Additionally, their websites don't have many pop-ups and malware.
You may also check services such as the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about certain online shops. Moreover, you can quickly check online reviews such as in Google Shopping to see if customers trust a shop. Even Facebook has its rating system that you can check for trust reviews.
Tip 2 - Look for the Padlock
Your sensitive information travels from the browser to retailer servers during online shopping. Your data, including credit card and other financial information, is shared with e-commerce websites. Therefore, it is essential that the site uses a secure connection.
A reputable online shop uses technologies such as Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt data exchange between your computer and their server. You can check for a "padlock" icon on your address bar when you visit their websites. Also, you can check if their URL starts with "HTTPS" and not "HTTP". The additional "s" means secure to signify secure connection.
Tip 3 - Do Not Use Public WiFi
You may be accessing a secure website. But, you are still at risk if you are using a public connection. Hackers can "sniff" the data transmission by setting-up fake wireless access points in public areas. They may copy the WiFi names of your favorite establishments. It fools you in connecting to their WiFi instead of legitimate ones.
Avoid public connections if possible. More importantly, do not use any shared devices such as public terminals. However, you can follow the steps in this guide to protect yourself in case you have no option. Moreover, it is essential to clear your browser history and log out of your accounts if you are using shared computers such as in libraries.
Tip 4 - Be Wary of Coupons
Coupons are everywhere these days. Shopping is already online. Naturally, coupons will follow suit. However, beware of pop-ups and emails that offer coupons and deals. It may seem attractive, but criminals may use this to "phish" information from you.
You will often receive emails with links to coupons. Take note that most retailers often offer coupon codes instead of links. If you see an email with deals, visit the store's website and check if it is legitimate. It is better to conduct all your shopping and couponing in the retailers' sites where you have the security.
Tip 5 - Use Official Mobile Apps
Invesp reports that mobile shopping may reach up to 27% in sales by the end of 2018. The popularity and accessibility of smartphones make it easy to shop anywhere. That is why fake shopping applications are popping up on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
The collection information just like fake online shops. It is sometimes difficult to identify which apps are legitimate. Use download links found on the retailers' websites instead. Moreover, e-commerce optimizes their sites for the mobile experience. You may be better off shopping using your mobile browser.
Tip 6 - Do Not Use Debit Cards
Use a credit card instead. It typically has a limit on how much you can spend. Moreover, credit card companies often monitor fraudulent activities. Better yet, use middle-man services like Paypal. You can use your credit card and debit card through it. You are protected by Paypal's layer of security. Additionally, you don't have to share your bank information.
You can also use virtual credit cards or e-prepaid cards. Most banks offer cards exclusive for online shopping. The shopping card makes it easy to monitor your expenses and protects your bank information. You can also use virtual prepaid cards such as OKPay, MoneyPolo, and EcoPayz.
Tip 7 - Be Wary of Social Media Deals
Social media is often an effective marketing campaign for both big and small retailers. There are deals which are exclusively available through social media accounts. You often see contests, coupons, and other shopping deals on social media. One such popular scam is the "just pay shipping." Sellers may offer "free" items, and you only have to pay for shipping. Next thing you should know that this deal is overpriced for a low-quality product. Just like the tips above, check the retailers' actual website if such deals exist.
Tip 8 - Create a Unique Password
Just like any online presence, your online shopping accounts should have a secure password. You may follow the tips above. But, a weak password may just compromise your account and financial information. Create passwords which are not connected to any of your personal information. Use special characters for added security. Additionally, install passwords managers for added protection.
Tip 9 - Tighten Computer Security
You must keep a clean browsing habit if you want to protect yourself from online threats. Do not click on pop-ups or links that you are not sure if secure or not. Avoid downloading any apps that promise deals as well.
Moreover, update your operating system and browsers. Patches are often available to protect against new threats. Your overall protection adds a layer of security for your online activities.
Tip 10 - Install Anti-Malware
The most important security measure is to install an anti-malware. Applications, such as MalwareFox, protect the overall health of your system.
It protects your online activities while shopping. Real-time protection removes threats such as pop-ups, toolbars, and other sources of malicious software. Also, it scans your system for questionable files. That means you can catch threats even after downloading them. Even unknown malware cannot penetrate such protection.
Online shopping can be an enjoyable experience. Protecting yourself will give you peace of mind while purchasing items online. A few extra steps will lessen the possibility of any disasters.