More than two thirds, or 69 percent, of U.S. adults shop online at least once a month, and for good reason. As a customer, you can browse a store’s entire inventory without having to take one step into a brick and mortar store—not to mention, you’ll probably get a better price.
While online shopping is convenient (and fun!), it can also be potentially dangerous, making you vulnerable to identity fraud and hacking. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to stop your online retail therapy. Just use these five tips to be a smarter, and safer, online shopper.
1. Be wary of shopping links in your email.
Did you know that a person becomes a victim of identity fraud every two seconds? Identity fraud can occur from viruses that are sent through an email, a texted link, or an unsafe browser. Identity fraud can cost a person anywhere from a few thousand to a couple hundred thousand dollars and can be difficult to recover from.
Be cautious before clicking links that are sent to you, regardless of the format. Here are a few tips:
• Consider the sender; is it someone you know? This doesn’t guarantee safety, but it’s a good first check.
• Hover over the link to see what the URL is if the link isn’t copied directly, but hidden by a something like “Click Here.”
• If you’re really uncertain, use a link scanner like URLVoid, which checks it against a variety of databases.
2. Look for the SSL sign.
An SSL (security sockets layer) is an encryption on a website that adds an extra layer of security protection for a customer or client. According to PCMag.com, this is one of the smallest security prevention measures a site can use, and if a website does not have SSL, do not use it.
To see if a website has this or not, look for a small padlock icon next to the website address in your browser as you’re checking out. The padlock means that the page you’re viewing has SSL, and is safe to use.
3. Do your homework on new brands.
Reputation is important when it comes to online shopping, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to big brand names to be safe. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to get insight on whether a newly-discovered online store is reputable or not. Here are a few simple tips to follow:
• Look for online reviews. If they’re overall negative, reconsider your purchase.
• Check the Better Business Bureau for reports of fraudulent activity.
• Look for SSL sign, as suggested above.
• Ask friends if they’ve ever shopped with the retailer before. If so, what was their experience like?
4. Your personal information should stay personal.
A website does not need to know all of your personal information. Be cautious about what information the website is asking you for, and only give out the information that is absolutely necessary for the transaction.
Using public wifi, or any wireless provider or server that is not your own, is not considered safe for online shopping. Many wifi hotspots don’t have encryption software or extra security protection, and hackers that are in the same area can grab your personal information within seconds without leaving a trace.
It’s also important to note that online shopping from a computer is much safer than using a cell phone. The majority of cell phones don’t have anti-virus and security software. If you must use your cell phone for shopping, be extra careful during your transaction.
Security breaches and viruses are the most common problems that a customer is at risk of when online shopping, but those risks shouldn’t stop you from taking advantage of the convenience that it gives you. If you’re aware of the potential dangers when sharing information online and learn how to keep your information safe, you can take advantage of all that online shopping has to offer.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years. She is currently a lifestyle blogger and the editor of Whooo’s Reading and Carpe Daily. When she's not writing or editing, she's trying new DIY projects around the house or training fitness clients. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.