Tips for Safe Shopping

The time of year when online purchases sky rocket is here.  Shopping and travel for the holidays is much easier now than it was in the past.  Unfortunately, muggers and con-artists know this and are even more common online than on the streets.  So how can you protect yourself online?  Here are a few tips for safe shopping.

Use Reputable Sites– If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If you are looking at items from a new store, check reviews.  Do a search on search engine like google or bing to see what others say.  The Better Business Bureau’s score can frequently be found in these results.

Private Email– Do not make purchases under your work email.  There are two reasons for this.  First, the company owns the email address, not you.  If you leave for whatever reason, your receipts are gone and access to your account can become difficult.  Always use a private email address here.  The second reason, many stores will sell email addresses to advertisers, this just generates more spam to your work account and more opportunity for malicious emails.

Choose a Card Wisely–  Consider a credit card over debit card for transactions.  Most credit card vendors have better fraud protection in the event of misuse.  Not to mention, it is very hard to function day to day if your bank account gets emptied, especially during the holidays.  The best option is a prepaid credit card.  Add your funds and make online purchases with this.  If it is stolen, you will not hit your limit or lose the money in your checking account.  Simply load what you want to spend and essentially control what you could lose.

Watch for Spam– With purchases come shipping confirmations.  Spammers know this which is why a great deal of malicious spam is disguised as these.  Enable a spam filter if you have not already.  Never click links from email addresses you do not know.  Always verify the sender and verify the link.  Hover your mouse over the email address without clicking.  You should see the address displayed.  If the email address does not match the displayed name or what was expected, it is more than likely a scam.  Do the same for any links.  Hover over the link and the “real link” will be displayed either in the lower left of the window or near the cursor.  If it is anything aside from what you expect, do not click on it.

Opt Out– Avoid storing credit card information or other payment information.  When making purchases you have the option to avoid getting future marketing messages, take advantage of this to reduce your spam.

Avoid Public Access–  When making any transactions online be it purchases or communication, avoid public wifi.  These are often setup insecurely allowing others to see what you do or access your device.  Always make transactions from a trusted, private location.

Unique Passwords–  Never use the same password for more than one site and always use a secure password.  For help with this see our guide for passwords.

Security Questions– Make up answers to questions.  Between social media and data clearing houses very little personal information is actually private.  Consider making your own or use outlandish answers.  “What street did you grow up on?  TVs are nice.”  Something that you know, doesn’t truthfully answer the question, and won’t be guessed.

Stay up to Date– Keep an eye on statements and accounts.  Watch for potential fraud before it is too late.  In addition to staying current with your funds, keep your device current.  Install updates, maintain antivirus, make use of firewalls, etc.  Protect yourself and your device. For help with this see our tips for layering security.

Taking these measures will help protect you on your end and minimize the risk if the site or store is compromised.  There is no silver bullet for protection but, taking precautions can go a long way to stay safe shopping online.

Ryan Stephens 

Senior IT Security Consultant at Upton Technology