Avoid a Raw Deal: 5 Tips for Online Shopping Security

Updated Fall 2019

Trying to get the best gift on Black Friday used to require getting up at the crack of dawn, racing to the nearest mall and struggling through a crowd of desperate deal seekers, only to leave with an incomplete shopping list and a serious lack of holiday cheer.

Now, thanks to online shopping, gone are the days of risking life and limb to make sure that your little one gets their Turbo Man figure in time for the big day. Online shopping popularity has and will continue to grow.

However, online shopping has presented a new threat besides the angry consumer: cybercriminals.

As is often the case, with the increases in popularity and use, the risk and likelihood that cybercriminals will try and create ways to either trick or trap people into giving up sensitive information will also increase. As a way to help keep our customers safe when shopping online, we offer up some online shopping security tips, with a little inspiration from OUCH!, a leading security awareness newsletter.

Look for the Padlock

Have you ever noticed that little padlock in the corner of your browser’s address bar? Once the page loads, get in the practice of looking for that locked padlock, then take a look at the URL to make sure the address includes “https” instead of just “http”. The “s” means it’s secure and that the information exchanged between you and the site is protected and encrypted.

Use a Secure Payment Method

The only thing scarier than opening up that first bank statement after the holidays is discovering that someone treated themselves to a new laptop and a $300 steak dinner on your dime. Total Grinch move. Using a secure payment method, such as PayPal or credit cards. PayPal and most credit cards often provide buyer protection in the event of fraud.

Beware of Fake Sites

While we’re all on the hunt for a holiday bargain, try to use sites you trust and are familiar with. Also, make sure you have spelled the website address correctly. Often times, fake sites are set up to look like the real one. This CNBC story lays out some common signals to help consumers identify a potentially fake or dangerous site, including:

  • Steep discounts
  • Sloppy spelling and grammar
  • Poor website design
  • An abundance of bad reviews

If you see any of these signals, just don’t risk it. There are plenty of trusted retailers out there offering holiday discounts. Check out the CNBC piece for more tips.

Man holding credit card in hand and entering security code using smart phone on laptop keyboard, online shopping concept.Cropped image of man inputting card information and key on phone or laptop while shopping online.

Shop smarter. Shop safer.

Try to Avoid Shopping on Public Wi-Fi hotspots

Think about it: you probably have some pretty important information on your smartphone, tablet and/or laptop. Connecting to a public, and sometimes unsecured, wireless network could expose that vulnerable information. When you stop for a coffee break between shopping trips, think twice before connecting to the coffee shop’s public network. If you’re trying to connect to a laptop or tablet, it’s often safer to use the data from your smartphone by turning on the mobile hotspot feature. If you are ever in doubt, just remember this: If the Wi-Fi doesn’t require a password you should consider it a higher risk.

Update Your Devices

We know how annoying all of those software update notifications can be, but this is just good a good habit to get into. You should always try to keep your devices updated and patched with the latest available updates. These updates include more than just the latest emojis, too. They are designed to keep you safe from any newly discovered or known malware and virus outbreaks. Plus, cybercriminals are always creating new programs that might go undetected by older or outdated antivirus software. So don’t leave yourself exposed; choose “update now” the next time you get one of those notifications.

Create Strong Passwords

These days, most of us have accounts on our favorite shopping sites. It makes check out easier by saving our shipping and purchasing information. While convenience is well and good, this does create another door for cybercriminals to enter and steal your credit card information. As a rule of thumb, you should be using strong passwords on any account that might have saved financial information. Here is a link to OTELCO’s Password Best Practices, to help you create a safer shopping experience.

Taking that little bit of extra time to ensure your networks and information remains safe and secure can save you a holiday season full of headaches. Check every item off your list knowing that you found everyone the perfect gift — except for the cybercriminals, of course.