How to shop online safely

With another Cyber Monday just around the corner, online shopping has never been more popular, particularly as customers turn to smartphones and other mobile devices to execute their transactions. But although online shopping offers convenience, it also carries a certain amount of risk, exposing personal and financial information to would-be attackers looking to defraud or impersonate unsuspecting consumers.

Attackers can target online shoppers in a variety of different ways: by intercepting unsecure transactions; by creating fraudulent web sites and e-mail messages; by targeting unprotected computers; or by collecting sensitive data through corrupt apps.

However, there are some simple steps that online shoppers can take to make themselves less vulnerable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Only do business with reputable vendors. Before you provide any sensitive information, make sure you are dealing with a reputable, established vendor. Locate and note contact information and how customer issues are dealt with. This also applies to apps you download from the various app stores. Make sure the app is official and gets good reviews from other customers.
  • Make sure sensitive information is encrypted. If you are considering making an online purchase or uploading sensitive financial information, look for a URL that begins with "https" instead of "http". This indicates a certain level of security. Also look for a padlock or shield icon, which indicates recognized encryption software.
  • Only use secure networks. Avoid using unsecure or “open” networks, where sensitive data could be visible to others. Your smartphone hotspot is always a good option if you are using a tablet or computer outside of the home. Make sure that a password has been set to prevent others from using the network.
  • Use a credit card. Always use a credit card to pay for online transactions, rather than a debit card, money order or other forms of “cash.” Credit card companies will provide a certain amount of protection against fraud, limiting or eliminating your liability.
  • Be wary of e-mails requesting information. Banks and legitimate businesses do not request sensitive information via e-mail. Even though e-mails may look official and even include logos and other corporate branding, they could be phishing attacks or other scams. Check with your bank or vendor before you respond.
  • Use different passwords for different vendors. Don't use the same password for all your online accounts. If a password is intercepted or stolen from one account, it makes all your other online transactions vulnerable as well.
  • Keep software up-to-date. Make sure your browser and operating software is up-to-date. Attackers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in operating systems and manufacturers regularly offer updates to eliminate potential weaknesses. Also, make sure you lock your smartphone when it’s not in use.

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