Protect your identity and your bank account with these valuable tips for shopping online.
Since the year 2000, the number of online shoppers in the U.S. has climbed from 22% to a massive 79% in 2016 (TechCrunch 2016). Major online retailers like Amazon can offer customers competitive pricing along with the convenience of shopping from multiple devices (home and mobile) and quick delivery. However, as more people share banking and credit card information while shopping online, there has been an increase in hackers and identity thieves accessing sensitive personal data to make fraudulent purchases. To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and prevent infection of your devices by malware, follow the safe internet activity practices listed below.
Checkout with your credit card – When shopping online, use a credit card rather than your bank issued debit card. Since debit cards are directly linked to your bank account, it comes with greater risk should your card information be stolen. Credit cards offer greater protections and less liability should someone use your card for fraudulent charges.
Look for the green padlock – Websites like FirstReliance.com that feature a “Secure” green padlock on the left side of the address bar, or an “s” after “http” to form “https” in the address have an additional security feature not found on http sites. This form of encryption keeps your personal data safe, and will be present on any legitimate site requesting personal info, such as online retailers.
Stay updated – Always keep your computer and antivirus up-to-date. While it may be tempting to postpone that update to another day (or week), regular updates provide your computer and antiviruses with the most current information and resources needed to keep you safe. With new viruses and similar malware being developed all the time, an infection could go undetected during security scans without regular updates.
Don’t open suspicious emails – Email scams have been around for as long as there have been email, and while their tactics may evolve, the same recommendations apply – don’t open unknown emails. Opening suspicious emails can infect your computer with dangerous software like viruses and spyware designed to cause havoc and steal your information. While scammers have gotten good at imitating entities such as banks and even federal agencies like the IRS, it is important to remember that organizations will never contact you by email to request personal account information. If you’re unsure, contact the agency directly using information provided on the company’s official website to determine if the email is genuine.
Avoid risky links – We’ve all seen them before – links that pop up in your social media feeds for deals far too good to be true. Clicking these links can leave you open to software used by hackers, such as viruses or phishing. If you’re unsure of the legitimacy of a link, try searching for information about the entity offering the deal. If you’re still unsure, don’t click it.
Create complex passwords – We know, it’s a pain to keep up with a lot of different passwords, but having strong passwords is one of your best defenses against hackers. There are a variety of password generators offered online for creating strong random passwords, or you can choose one yourself, replacing letters with numbers and punctuation that resemble one another (@ for a, 2 for Z) for an overall stronger password.
Provide the minimum – When shopping online, only give the bare essentials when completing forms for purchase. The more information you put out there voluntarily, the easier it is for someone to take all that information and use it against you, such as stealing your identity.
Don’t access private pages on public networks – Public networks are just that – public. Avoid accessing any personal accounts on public networks because they are unsecured and are vulnerable to individuals looking to steal personal data, like usernames and passwords for your online banking account.
Use reputable apps – Just about every retailer offers an app to make it easier to shop on your smartphone. When downloading apps of any kind, be sure to download legitimate apps from reputable sites like the Apple App Store and Android Market. Also be mindful of permissions, such as requesting access to personal information such as contacts. Reading customer reviews can help you identify the safest and most beneficial apps before downloading.
Lock up your valuables – In the same way you wouldn’t leave your home unlocked while you are away, be sure to sign off of accounts and lock computers and personal mobile devices when they are not in use. Use security authentication for devices like your smartphone in case it becomes lost, and only use password memory features on your home computer.
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