How to stay safe when shopping online
9 tips to help protect you
Shopping online is a part of daily life for many Americans. Finding the best option at the lowest price is just a click or tap away. However, that ease and convenience could lead you to buy from less-than-reputable sources and expose you to identity theft or fraud if you’re not careful.
Fortunately, safe online shopping is possible if you take a few precautions.
More than half of U. S. residents are digital shoppers.
Source: Statista, 2015
1. Look for the padlock and green
Certain signs let you know if a website offers safe online shopping. First, look for sites that begin with “https”—the “s” means the site is secure. A padlock symbol in the address bar is another important security icon you want to see. Finally, a green address bar alerts you to the presence of an Extended Validation (EV) Certificate, which is another way to tell that a website is protected.
Many retail sites are unsecured until you get to the checkout stage, so don’t worry if you don’t see the previous notifications at first—but make sure they’re present when asked to provide payment information.
2. Don’t use untrusted Wi-Fi
Malicious wireless hotspots are now a common scam, and it’s best to assume that untrusted Wi-Fi connections are not secure. Criminals often set up what looks like a free, legitimate hotspot—such as “free airport Wi-Fi”—to get users to connect and then hack your computer.
Opt for a password-protected network over an open one. Better yet, save your online shopping for when you’re on a secured home network.
3. Use secure payment methods
Credit cards let you dispute charges if you suspect fraud. Some card providers also offer a virtual credit card number to use for online purchases that links to your account and expires after you use it. If using a credit card still worries you, consider other online payment methods.
Debit cards also offer consumers fraud protection, but in general, using one for online shopping may open you up to more risks. That’s because fraudulent debit card charges could temporarily drain your cash. Bank of America debit card customers are protected by a $0 Liability Guarantee.
Finally, when shopping online, consider using antimalware software. Bank of America customers have free access to IBM’s Trusteer Rapport™, which makes it more difficult for thieves to steal your password and blocks malicious software.
More than 40%
of U.S. consumers favor credit cards for online purchases.
Source: TSYS, 2015
4. Keep your browser updated and secure
All major browsers have security vulnerabilities from time to time. They repair these by releasing an updated version or a patch, which is a piece of software meant to address a bug or flaw. Hackers and scammers are constantly probing to find new weaknesses, so it’s critical that you use the latest version of your browser and regularly check for updates or security patches.
The 5 most popular
browsers had a total of 1,114 vulnerabilities in 2015 compared to 1,076 in 2014.
Source: Flexera Software, 2016
5. Minimize risk when using a cell phone to shop
The rise of smartphones has made online shopping easier—and potentially riskier. Just like with your PC, it’s important to use secure sites when you use your phone to shop, and download apps only from official app stores. It’s also easy to misplace or lose a phone, so be careful not to store credit card or other sensitive information on your phone. Make sure the phone is passcode- or fingerprint-protected, too, in the event that it falls into the wrong hands—and use strong passwords. Finally, don’t shop on unsecured wireless networks and watch out for folks looking over your shoulder when you enter sensitive information.
Nearly a third
of e-commerce transactions in the U.S. are now completed via cell phone.
Source: Criteo, 2016
6. Stick with familiar names
Before you hit the virtual checkout line, make sure the retailer has no complaints against it with the Better Business Bureau. Verify that the retailer has a phone number and address on its website, too, so you can contact someone if you need to resolve a problem in the future. It’s also critical to review the retailer’s return policy. If something does go wrong with your transaction, contact the company first. If it can’t resolve the issue to your satisfaction, consider filing a dispute with your credit card issuer or the Better Business Bureau.
were handled by Better Business Bureaus in 2015.
Source: BBB, 2015
7. Do the two-step
Some shopping sites are starting to use two-step verification, a security measure that goes beyond usernames and passwords. You may need to enable this in your account settings. With two-step verification the site will most often send you a text message or email with a code in it when you first log in. To complete signing in you need to enter that code in a second, separate step.
8. Shop on site
Many shopping scams take place through email, text message or social media. You may receive an official-looking promotional item claiming a great deal from a business you trust with a link attached. The link may take you to an alternate site that looks real but will try to get your personal information. Instead of clicking the link, type the name of the business into your browser to get to the legitimate site.
9. Protect your Social Security number
No matter how nice the shoes are, or how cheap the tickets seem, a retailer probably doesn’t really require your Social Security information or full birthdate. Those two pieces of information are the keys to many identity theft scams or fraudulent purchases. Only give out such information to businesses that have reason to need it.