By DeVry University
Online shopping is a common way for people around the world to get what they need delivered quickly to their door. In 2020, over two billion people shopped online and e-retail sales surpassed $4.2 trillion worldwide.
With so many people shopping online, cybercriminals have no shortage of targets. Your personal and confidential information can quickly become a tool for their own financial gain. That's why it’s important to learn cybersecurity tips to help you take the necessary precautions you need to keep your information safe and secure.
Know the Warning Signs
Online shopping can sometimes involve visiting multiple websites looking for the best deals. But doing this can increase the risk of stumbling upon unsafe sites. There are several warning signs to look for to decide whether a website is safe or not:
- The site looks unprofessional or poorly designed.
- Links are broken or disabled.
- No contact information is listed.
- Return or privacy policies are unclear or missing.
- Items are priced incredibly low.
- Credit card credentials are requested for additional reasons not related to your purchase.
- Shipping and extra charges seem unusual.
- The site has an excessive amount of negative reviews, or no reviews at all.
Cybersecurity Tips to Protect Yourself
Fortunately, there are methods you can use that can help keep you safe while shopping online. Learn more about cybersecurity with these 8 tips you can put to use immediately:
1. Secure Your Devices
Ensure all your electronic devices, from phones to PCs, are virus- and malware-free and running on the most current software and apps.
2. Check the URL
Beware of clicking on links to deals that sound too good to be true. In some instances, hackers will attempt to redirect you to a new page without your knowledge. “Make sure the website you’re browsing is secure by looking for the “lock” icon next to the web address,” says Brianne Cap, Director of IT Security at DeVry. Always check that the URL in the navigation bar represents the site you intended to visit. When in doubt, type the URL directly into the address bar instead of clicking on a link. “Consider bookmarking your favorite websites,” Cap continues, “Even the smallest typo can accidently direct you to a fake, lookalike site.”
The same principles apply to mobile shopping apps. You should always download apps directly from the Apple App Store or Android market instead of a third-party site.
3. Skip the Debit Card
Using a credit card can be safer than a debit card, as more consumer protection is typically in place for credit cards. In addition, debit cards are directly linked to your bank account, putting you at higher risk for more severe damages. “No matter what method of payment you use, refraining from storing your financial information on websites can help reduce your overall risk in the event of a data breach,” Cap adds.
4. Practice Password Safety
Your passwords for every online account must be unique and strong. It’s also good practice to change your passwords every few months and use different ones for different sites. While allowing websites to remember your password may seem convenient, remember that it can also open the door to hackers if your device or the website is subject to a data breach.
5. Use Secure Wi-Fi
When making online purchases, always use secure Wi-Fi. Avoid using public networks to shop online or log into payment sites such as PayPal or your bank. Since these networks are unsecured, attackers may be able to intercept personal information. If you must use public Wi-Fi, make sure you’ve logged out of your banking sites, government sites or any page where attackers can gain access to private information. Set your electronic devices to “ask” before they join any public networks. You can also use a virtual private network (VPN) or phone as a hotspot.
6. Be Wary of Email Scams
Attackers may send fraudulent emails requesting you to confirm a purchase or account information. These emails use scare tactics, such as informing you your account has been breached, and ask you to take immediate action to change your password or provide additional information. These links typically lead to a fake login page, and as a result, the attackers gain access to your account and password.
If you’re uncertain if an email is legitimate, the best approach is to type in the URL yourself and log in that way. Sometimes scammers will pretend to be your financial institution. In these instances, it’s safer to call the bank yourself to confirm if there is an issue. Never click on a link or download a file unless you know for sure it’s safe.
7. Check for Encryption
For added safety, check to make sure that the URL for a host, certificate or site uses encryption. Look for a closed padlock and a URL that starts with “HTTPS”. Confirming that both of these elements are present helps ensure that your information will be safe and secure.
If the URL of the site starts with “HTTPS,” it means it’s secured using a TLS/SSL certificate. This certificate secures your data as it moves from your browser to the site’s server. To check the certificate, click on the padlock icon in the address bar and a dialog box will open with information about the certificate. You’ll be able to see who issued the certificate along with its expiration date. Typically, the certificate should be granted to the organization that owns the site, and certificates generally expire after one or two years.
8. Practice Credit Card Safety
Protecting your credit card information while shopping online can help prevent credit card fraud. Here are a few helpful cybersecurity tips:
- Keep digital receipts from all online purchases.
- Always compare your receipts to your final credit card bill.
- If you see any suspicious activity, contact your credit card issuer immediately.
- Try to designate one credit card specifically for online purchases, instead of using multiple cards.
- Avoid saving your credit card information on individual retailer websites.
“Reach out to your credit card company immediately if you think you’ve become the victim of a cyber-attack and report any online scams to https://www.usa.gov/online-safety,” Cap adds.
Bonus Tip: Ensure Safe Delivery of Your Packages
Your online shopping experience doesn’t end when your order is submitted – and safe delivery of your packages is key. Here are a few tips to help ensure you get what you ordered:
- Track your package step-by-step by signing up for shipping email or text alerts.
- Don’t leave packages unattended. If you’re not home, have a neighbor accept or pick up the package for you.
- Consider installing a smart doorbell camera to deter theft and get real-time alerts.
Want to Learn More About Cybersecurity?
If cybersecurity interests you, there are many paths you can pursue. At DeVry, we offer several options that may align with your goals, including a Bachelor's Degree Specialization in Cyber Security and a Cyber Security Undergraduate Certificate Program.