How to Stay Safe Shopping Online

Whether it’s the holiday season or any other time of the year, you should shop safely online to avoid fraud and identity theft. Here are a few things you can do to stay safe while shopping online:

Update your passwords.

You should change your password every 90 days. It may sound like a hassle, but it’s way less frustrating than getting hacked.

Be sure to choose a strong password. In terms of length, make sure your password is at least 12 characters long. In terms of complexity, use a fair mix of lower-case and capital letters, numbers, and special characters (e.g. !@#$%^&*).

No matter what you do, don’t use “password” as your password. You’re probably thinking, “who would do such a thing?”. Tons of people, it turns out. The word “password” has been one of the most popular passwords in recent history.

Avoid fake websites.

If the web address looks strange or the site looks a bit off, you may be dealing with a fake site. Trust your instincts. If you need a second opinion, you can use Google’s Safe Browsing tool to see if they think the site is safe or not.

Avoid fake apps.

Some apps contain viruses that can be used to steal your personal information. A real app should have thousands of positive reviews, have been updated recently, and contain no spelling errors in the name or description. When in doubt, go to the company’s website. They’ll point you in the right direction.

Don’t buy from sites that aren’t secure.

The site should be secure. The address should read https:// and have a green lock symbol.

Here’s what Amazon.com looks like:

Amazon.com security symbol
Never enter sensitive data like your credit card information or passwords into a site that is not secure. The Google Chrome web browser will often warn you if a site is not secure. This includes sites that will attempt to install viruses on your computer, fake sites, and more.

Be careful about clicking links in your email.

Scammers may send you an email that appears to be from Amazon, some other well-known online store, or even your friends. This is called phishing. Their hope is that you’ll click the link, go to their phony site and enter your account or credit card information.

Don’t click on anything before verifying where the email is really coming from. That email from your friend Rachel may really be from a hacker pretending to be Rachel. Figure out who exactly sent you the email by using Google’s helpful set of instructions here.

Better safe than sorry.

Secure your devices.

Install the latest upgrades for your computer, phone, and tablet. Upgrades aren’t always just aesthetic changes. If you read the long list of enhancements for your device’s latest upgrade, you’ll notice there are often security upgrades too.

Scan your devices for viruses. Simply upgrading your devices won’t prevent you from getting viruses. Nothing is ever 100% secure, so make scanning your devices a regular habit.

I’m a big fan of Avast Security. I use it on my computer and my phone. You can set up the app to run automatically every day, every week, or every month.

Don’t shop on open wifi.

Open wifi connections are not secure. This means people can steal your information even when you’re using a secure site like Amazon.com. Wait until you get home to do your shopping over a safe internet connection.

Turn off wifi on your mobile devices when you aren’t using the internet. Hackers are able to steal your information even when you’re not connected to the internet at all. It’s scary to think about, but true.

Install two-factor authentification to keep your information safe. I use this for many of my accounts. Knowing my password wouldn’t be enough for a hacker to gain access to my account, they’d also need access to my phone. Again, nothing is 100% secure, but having this second layer of security prevents me from being an easy target.

Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your data over the web. Just because the wifi connection at Starbucks has a password, doesn’t mean that the internet connection is secure. That’s just an attempt to ensure only customers are using the connection. Keep that in mind. Also, be aware that a VPN connection won’t help you if there’s already a virus on your device.

Don’t fall for sales that are too good to be true.

Use some common sense. If a sale seems to good to be true, it usually is. You won’t be able to find an authentic Chanel bag online for $80. And no one is selling a brand-new iPhone for $300. These are scams. Don’t fall for it.

Related: Read our Discount Hacks for Expensive Items blog post to learn how to get luxury items at a more affordable price.

Only use secure forms of payment.

Always use secure forms of payment like a credit card or PayPal account. Be very cautious of online stores asking for you to pay by check, money order, or wire transfer. Take that as a big red flag.

Always review your credit card statements.

This is your last line of defense. As long as you report the fraud, your credit card company should refund your account. Just because you can report fraud doesn’t mean you should buy from shady-looking websites. Stay safe when shopping online and aim to prevent bad things from happening.

What to do if you’ve already shared your information with a scammer?

If you’ve shared your account information, remove any saved payment information you have attached to that account. Also, change your password.

If you’ve shared your credit card information, contact your bank. You need to report the incident and determine what they expect you to do.

If you’ve wired money, report the incident to your local police department.

If you’ve shared your social security number, lock your credit report. You want to prevent someone from using this information to open a new credit card under your name. And don’t worry, the credit freeze won’t hurt your credit. To learn more visit the Federal Trade Commision Credit Freeze FAQs webpage.

Let’s Discuss: How much precaution do you take when shopping online?

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Hey! I'm Andreaus. One-half of The Blue Pants Budget team! Together my wife and I run this personal finance blog as a way to share our debt free journey and to help inspire and motivate other millennials to become debt free and financially independent.

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