While consumers can now access goods much easier, saving time and money in the process, the act of shopping online has also become a lot riskier. Exchanging financial information online has attracted cybercriminals. In 2020, the FBI reported that $1.8 billion was lost to e-skimming and online theft. These cybercriminals infiltrate security flaws in e-commerce websites in order to access personal and financial information, which then gets sold on to third parties. So, it is very important that you are proactive about implementing strategies to protect your consumer data when online.
Don’t Connect to Public Wi-Fi
As much as possible, avoid using public Wi-Fi. Our article on stopping public Wi-Fi risks explains that because open connections don’t require authentication, cyber criminals can easily intercept security flaws in order to infiltrate devices connected to the network. This gives them access to information you send online. For example, if you use public Wi-Fi to log in to an e-commerce website and order clothes online, potential hackers can view your account login information and purchase transactions. From there, they can extract your passwords and payment information.
It’s best not to connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots at all, but if you have no other option, make sure to verify the legitimacy of the network before connecting. For instance, if you are connecting to a restaurant’s free Wi-Fi, ask an employee for their legitimate connection name and IP address. Once connected to the public Wi-Fi, always avoid websites that contain personal information, such as banking websites and social media networks. Install antivirus solutions to protect your devices from malware. You can also hide your browsing activity with a VPN.
Install a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
You can use a VPN to hide your IP address, regardless of whether you’re using a private or public connection. Before installing VPN software on your device, research reliable providers to ensure you get the best possible security. Wirecutter recommends Mullvad and IVPN, as both have secure protocols that don’t inhibit internet speed. Mullvad can be set up across multiple devices and it is easy to use regardless of your technical knowledge. A VPN’s role is to hide your information from bad actors by creating a tunneling protocol between your device and your destination website. The tunneling protocol uses encryptions to obfuscate the data being exchanged, thus hiding your browsing activity and information.
Choose Your Payment Option
You should always try to avoid paying for online purchases using your debit card. Although your card of choice will not prevent hackers from targeting you, it can lower the risk of you actually losing money. An article on the difference between credit and debit by Petal Card explains that credit payments are easier to dispute than payments made on your debit. Your credit provider can simply cancel charges in the event of an illegal transaction, but fraudulent purchases made on your debit card take the money stored in your bank account.
To protect your information, consider a single-use credit card. Single-use credit cards, also called virtual cards, are digital-only cards that generate alias credit card numbers. They hide your real credit card number from third parties, including the merchant you are buying from. Alternatively, look into alternative payment solutions, such as e-wallets that you can load whenever you want to make a purchase.
Be a Mindful Online Shopper
Finally, practice mindfulness when shopping online. This extends to researching on the website you plan to shop from and vetting that it’s legitimate. Forbes’ report on fake e-commerce sites explains that scammers now have very effective strategies to defraud consumers. These include heavily advertising on social media and creating pages to emulate platforms like Shopify. As a consumer, it is then your responsibility to verify the legitimacy of a page. If the deal looks to good to be true, you’re better off shopping somewhere else. If the ads are too spammy, that could be a sign that the site is fake. To be sure, opt to shop from household names or ask trusted sources to verify a page.
Cybercriminals profit off the increasing popularity of online shopping by preying on the uninformed. To protect your data, make sure to only connect to secure networks, use information-obscuring tools such as VPNs and single-use credit cards, and be mindful where you shop. Following these steps can keep your personal and financial information safe, preventing you from getting your money or identity stolen.