The holiday season is approaching quickly and many of us will be shopping online. It’s important that consumers understand the potential security risks and know how to protect themselves and their information.
The following tips are provided to help promote a safe, secure online shopping experience:
- Secure your computer. Make sure your computer has the latest security updates installed. Check that your anti-virus/anti-spyware software is running and receiving automatic updates. If you haven’t already done so, install a firewall before you begin your online shopping.
- Upgrade your browser. Upgrade your Internet browser to the most recent version available. Review the browser’s security settings. Apply the highest level of security available that still gives you the functionality you need.
- Ignore pop-up messages. Set your browser to block pop-up messages. If you do receive one, click on the “X” at the top right corner of the title bar to close the pop-up message. If that doesn’t work, close your browser. Never accept a pop-up window’s notice that your computer is infected. That should only come from your installed and updated anti-virus program. What? You say you don’t have an anti-virus program? Read my previous post on that here.
- Secure your transactions. Look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar and be sure “https” appears in the website’s address bar before making an online purchase. The “s” stands for “secure” and indicates that the webpage is encrypted. Some browsers can be set to warn the user if they are submitting information that is not encrypted.
- Use strong passwords. Create strong passwords for online accounts. Use at least eight characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Don’t use the same passwords for online shopping websites that you use for logging onto your home or work computer. Never share your login and/or password.
- Do not e-mail sensitive data. Never e-mail credit card or other financial/sensitive information. E-mail is like sending a postcard and other people have the potential to read it.
- Do not use public computers or public wireless to conduct transactions. Don’t use public computers or public wireless for your online shopping. Public computers may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order. Criminals may be monitoring public wireless for credit card numbers and other confidential information.
- Make payments securely. Pay by credit card rather than debit card. Credit/charge card transactions are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Cardholders are typically only liable for the first $50 in unauthorized charges. If online criminals obtain your debit card information they have the potential to empty your bank account.
- Use temporary account authorizations. Some credit card companies offer virtual or temporary credit card numbers. This service gives you a temporary account number for online transactions. These numbers are issued for a short period of time and cannot be used after that period. – Read a nice article here on the use of virtual credit cards. Additionally, PayPal offers free disposable credit cards numbers. You can read about that here.
- Select merchants carefully. Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. If you have questions about a merchant check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
- Keep a record. Keep a record of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of every e-mail you send or receive from the seller. Review your credit card and bank statements for unauthorized charges.
What to do if you encounter problems with an online shopping site:
If you have problems shopping online contact the seller or site operator directly. If those attempts are not successful, you may wish to contact the following entities:
For additional information about safe online shopping, please visit the following sites:
- National Cyber Security Alliance: www.staysafeonline.org/content/online-shopping
- OnGuard Online: www.onguardonline.gov/topics/online-shopping.aspx
- Online Cyber Safety: www.bsacybersafety.com/video/