Online shopping has become increasingly common in recent years as a convenient alternative to going out to stores. However, the time and energy you save by shopping online could be lost if you fall victim to identity theft due to a misstep in your online shopping habits.
Your first rule when shopping online is only to shop through websites you trust. If you have not heard of a particular shopping site, look for information about it through a search engine to help you figure out whether it has a good or bad reputation. Then, rather than following a link from an email or social media post, go directly to the website where you want to make the purchase. Some sophisticated hackers make dummy websites that look like the real ones, but will steal the information you enter.
Wherever you end up shopping, use these tips to help you protect yourself and your sensitive information:
- Shop online from home or another secure network, not from public Wi-Fi hotspots. Any information you enter on an unsecured network could be snatched by a talented hacker.
- Look for https:// at the beginning of the web address before you enter any personal information on a shopping site, especially your banking or credit card information. This prefix to the web address helps you know that the website has extra layers of encryption to transfer your information securely.
- Use a credit card for the most security on your purchases. Most major credit cards will refund your money if your item never arrived and the company you purchased it from is not cooperating to make it right. Also, they offer fraud protection for months after making a fraudulent purchase, which can make it easier for you to recover your losses if your credit card number somehow falls into the wrong hands.
- Only fill out the required information when you are making a purchase. You should not need to enter your birthday or Social Security number, and if these pieces of information fall into the wrong hands, they make it easy for identity thieves to pose as you.
- Generate a different password for each online shopping website where you have an account. Many major companies, including Home Depot, Target, LivingSocial, and eBay, have reported major data breaches in recent years. If your password at a hacked website is the same as the one you use at a different online shopping site, the hackers could use this information to make fraudulent purchases at many websites before you realized what was happening.
- Check out the website's return and refund policies before you make your purchase. In some cases, you may have to pay for return shipping or have a restocking fee deducted from your refund. Between the two of these, you might not get any money back at all if you choose to return the item.