You know better than to click on links from unknown sources, and you try to only buy from sites you’ve visited before. You’re doing all you can to keep your information from ending up in the wrong hands, right?
Not necessarily. Newer, more sophisticated scams are tripping up even tech-savvy shoppers – and funneling their sensitive personal and financial information to untrustworthy third parties. Those of us who shop on mobile devices are especially vulnerable. According to RSA, a computer and network security company, the number of fraud attempts on mobile users has increased 173% between 2013 and 2015.
But don’t power down your smartphone just yet. You can do online shopping more safely and with confidence – so long as you take a few preventative measures. Here, experts share some effective ways that can help protect yourself and your information before you click the “buy” button.
1. Check the URL
“Making sure you're on a secure connection when shopping on a mobile website is the single most important factor in determining your online safety,” says Rob Douglas, an information security consultant at IdentityTheft.info. To determine whether your connection is secure, check the URL in the browser’s address bar. Legitimate, secured sites will begin with “https” (instead of “http”). There may also be a green padlock symbol in the address bar, located either to left or the right of the URL.
If you’re not familiar with a site, do a quick search for it before you start filling up your cart, suggests Robert Siciliano, author, speaker, and CEO of IDTheftSecruity.com. Sites that show up in the first page or two of the search results are usually legitimate, as search engines tend to boost secure sites to the top to increase internet safety.
2. Use a VPN
Think twice before sharing any personal or financial information over a public wi-fi network, which tends to be less secure than password-protected networks and may be easier for hackers to access.
If you do have to rely on public wi-fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) to establish a secure connection, says Neal O’Farrell, founder of Schooled in Security and a specialist in security and privacy issues. You’ll still be able to get online, but the VPN will encrypt your personal information and online activities so they can’t be accessed by hackers.
VPNs are available as apps for mobile devices and software for desktops and laptops and often can be purchased for $10 or less (many are free). Before you decide on one, Douglas recommends researching the provider’s terms and conditions first. Some collect your data and sell it to third-party advertisers, while others store your personal information, which can pose a potential security risk if their servers are compromised.
3. Stay current
One simple but powerful way to protect yourself when safely shopping online is to update your operating systems and apps regularly, says Siciliano. “This includes automatically installing the latest browser versions and critical security patches,” he adds. By taking this extra step, you can help minimize attacks that exploit out-of-date software or gaps in security.
You may also want to research whether your apps are properly safeguarding your personal information. O’Farrell suggests using a free online tool, such as Zscaler Application Profiler* (ZAP), which will assess an app’s security and privacy risks and show you whether it’s exposing your data.
4. Keep personal information personal
A natural part of any online transaction is filling in the shipping, billing, and payment forms. But be careful of just how much personal information you provide.
“A general rule is that the less you share online, the better,” says Douglas. “So if a website or browser asks if you want to store financial or personal data for later use, think carefully about doing so – even if you use the site often. This is because the less information you have stored with a website or browser, technically the safer you are in the event of a data breach. However, if you do choose to store your information with a site, try and limit it to reputable businesses and organizations you trust, rather than ones you aren’t as familiar with.”
For more on safe online shopping, see 4 Tips To Help Keep Your Credit Card Information Safe While Shopping Online.
*Please note that by visiting the URL or hyperlink referenced in this publication you will enter another website created, operated and maintained by a different entity.