According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the most prevalent type of cybercrime involves crimes committed against online shoppers. It’s not a Grande Vegas Casino toss-up – if you make online purchases you have to be hyper-vigilant to avoid hacking, phishing and other online scams. Today you can shop for everything from online casino games to electronics, clothes, toys, appliances, furniture, tools and more. It’s hard to think of a consumer item that isn’t available online today but the warning “buyer beware” has never been more applicable.
Advantages of Online Shopping
There are so many advantages to online shopping that it’s hard to list them all. Some of the benefits of online shopping include:
- access to greater variety of items
- access to greater opportunities to compare items
- easier to send gifts
- no sales pressure
- no crowds
- bigger variety of choices
There are disadvantages to online shopping as well. It’s difficult to size correctly, you don’t have anyone to ask for assistance, you may experience shipping delays or other delivery problems and you often don’t know exactly what you’re getting.
The biggest disadvantage of online shopping is that, when you send your financial details online, you risk opening yourself up to internet scams and fraud. Scam artists, hackers and others are constantly trying to access your credit card and other personal information so that they can gain access to your account for their own uses.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t shop online. No one can guarantee you 100% security but the online stores have built in safety measures that help you keep your account intact. You can also take steps to ensure your online safety.
https or http?
Look at the store’s URL to make sure that it starts with https. Web address that starts with ‘Https’ facilitate transactions using a secure socket layer (SSL). SSL is the newest web security technology. It encrypts all data bits and intersects between the web browser and its database. In this way, your personal data will travel through a secure path and its integrity will remain concealed.
You need to be VERY CAREFUL about where you input your personal information. Any time that you’re asked for your personal information, think twice before you provide it. Most people now know that they shouldn’t give their financial information to unidentified websites. But the scammers are getting good at convincing you to click on their links to legitimate-sounding sites and then inputting your information.
For instance, scammers often send out emails, with logos and return addresses that are almost identical to that of the real site, with a request to “confirm” an order or “recreate your password.” Once they have that information they can move ahead and clean out your account.
If you get an email from an online store or a financial institution, don’t click on the link in the email. It might be a legitimate email……or a scammer might be at work — the link might contain a virus that could infect your computer OR the link might request financial information that will then be available to the scammer for his own use.
Online Payment Services
You can and should rely on online payment services (Paypal, Skrill, Stripe, Venmo, Payoneer and other ebanking institutions) offer an extra layer of protection to your transaction with an online shop. Amazon actually has its own payment service but other online shops rely on credit or debit cards, ewallets, evouchers and other ebanking institutions.
Whenever you set up a new account at an online store you should make sure that you create a good, strong, multi-character/number/letter password. You can use a password key tool to keep track of all of your passwords or create a generic password and then, for each new account, vary it with some new characters and numbers – you can store your list safely on cloud by simply keeping a list of the different characters for each account and only you will know what the rest of the password is.
Don’t open your account or transfer any sensitive information when you’re using unprotected WiFi. A hacker can easily access your financial data by clicking into your web activity while surfing on the same WiFi. Some WiFi networks don’t use any type of security layer for data transmissions, putting your account information at risk.
Hackers hang around public WiFi networks, just waiting to get into users’ networks and access their online transactions and financial data.
Don’t assume that any website that has a nice logo, good graphics and fancy writing is legitimate. Anybody can build a website and buy a domain name. Research retailers online to make sure they’re legitimate. The best places to check out an online shop with which you’re not familiar is the Consumer Reports sites, online reviews or social media. Even word of mouth.
Some people tend to shop at the big online stores – Amazon, Esty, eBay, Kohls, etc. You don’t need to ignore the small shops because sometimes they offer items and deals that you won’t get anywhere else. But make sure that you are buying at a reputable site.
If you are aware of the different scams that are taking place you will be in a better place to avoid them. Some of the biggest scams that target online shoppers include:
- Phishing – Phishing involves a message that arrives in your email and seems to be from a legitimate source – Paypal, Amazon, your bank, etc. The message encourages you to click a link to log into your account (maybe the message offers you a deal, asks you to confirm your account details, says that there’s an abnormality with an account transfer, etc).
In reality, the link in the email goes to a fake website which can then collect your financial information.
If you’re not sure whether the email is legitimate, don’t click on the email. Log into your account by typing the store’s URL right into your browser. Then you can contact the support desk through your legitimate account and find out whether they did, indeed, send you a letter.
- Vishing – Vishing is phishing, just by phone. The caller contacts you, ostensibly representing a real store (or other institution – bank, insurance company, etc). Don’t ever provide information about your financial data (or anything else) over the phone. If the caller really does represent an institution with which you are affiliated, s/he will have that information at hand.
- Push payment fraud – sometimes, scammers will send out a bunch of emails from a store where many people shop online (say, Amazon), figuring that out of 100 emails, they’re sure to get 10 where people have legitimate orders pending.
Then, they say something like “there’s a problem with your order. Log into your account to solve the issue”. Once again, the log-in link that they provide is a fake – it takes you straight to their fake website. They then proceed to collect your data and access your account. Don’t ever use the link from the email – type the link to the company straight into your browser and proceed from there.
Shopping online is growing in popularity, thanks to the convenience of buying through the Internet. If you observe basic security precautions your online shopping experience will be a secure one.