Holiday shopping can be stressful or fulfilling, but it is hard to deny that there is definitely a rush to buy family and friends items. With every year that passes, more people shop online than in regular stores, and since the COVID-19 crisis, many online shopping habits may become permanent.
eCommerce sites make it easier to shop online for the holidays, with recommended products, promotions, customer service, and deals on deliveries. Holiday shopping is often more comfortable online than pounding the pavement and standing in line at physical stores. There is no wonder that the crowds used to congregate at department stores during the holiday season are now online.
Unfortunately, where crowds gather, there are often thieves and those willing to exploit those who are unaware. The same tricksters appear online in the form of hackers, those who practice phishing and infect your device with malware. In addition, viruses have a way of popping up if anti-virus software isn’t updated periodically. The result is a combination of threats that require tactics and tools to make online shopping safe.
The following are five common problems and solutions that arise with safety and online shopping.
Problem: Spying on Data and Activity Online
It is important to remember that no one is really alone online. Not only can websites and search engines track user activity, but unscrupulous third parties can also spy on data. Just as online activity can be used innocently for many purposes, including finding ways to improve customer experience, some seek to exploit this information and profit from retrieved data through illegal means.
Consequence: Online spies can watch transactions, credit card numbers, and other personal information. This could lead to using a credit card for unauthorized transactions or, in extreme cases, committing identity fraud if enough data is stolen.
The Solution: Use tools that encrypt all data and commands on the internet, so third parties can’t spy. Sending information through special tunnels and using encryption, which jumbles up letters and numbers until they appear to be gibberish to others, will keep sensitive data safe from prying eyes.
One of the tools that is particularly effective at using encryption and data tunnels are VPNs. These tools hide the user’s IP address, so the user’s true identity is never discovered online. A VPN provides an alternate IP address and uses encryption to disguise all information that passes through. To learn more about what a VPN is, click here.
Problem: Hacking and Malware
It is essential to be vigilant about what data is shared, but some online criminals are pre-emptive and find ways to steal without the intended victim taking risks. Malware is an all-encompassing term short for “malicious software” and refers to viruses and worms designed to damage a computer, device, or network. The motive may be to get information or simply for malicious purposes, as indicated by the name.
Consequence: Malware can make your computer or device inoperable. It can also spread to other computers and networks. Viruses and worms can be harmful enough, but spyware also aims to take over a computer and device and force it to take action or gather sensitive data. These threats compromise security and can even cost money if they make unauthorized transactions.
The Solution: It isn’t enough to install anti-virus and anti-malware software, but it should be upgraded regularly. Users who don’t have the latest version of anti-virus software are particularly vulnerable to attack because the online criminals keep innovating, and upgrades prevent them from getting a step ahead.
Problem: Shopping on Public Networks
Shopping for gifts for family and co-workers requires discretion. No one wants a spouse or boss looking over their shoulder when they are picking out a holiday surprise. This may mean shopping on the go in a coffee shop. Also, it can save time to consolidate errands and shop while online at a store.
Consequence: Public networks, however, can pose dangers. They may use lax security, and there is a good chance other users logged in to the same network may be able to see data. This is particularly unsafe because other users are complete strangers who could be out to grab data. Sensitive information is at risk when browsing on public networks.
The Solution: Obviously, the safest place to make transactions is on a private network, but if using a public network is absolutely necessary, stick to networks that you know and have strong security features. Ask the cafe or store what network they use.
Problem: Credit Card Security
Unfortunately, many people have been the target of unauthorized transactions in their name because someone accessed credit cards online or even from phone orders. The risk of having credit card information intercepted and used sometimes seems an inevitable part of shopping with a credit card. However, there are ways to be safe.
Consequence: for those who have a high limit on credit cards, someone stealing credit card information and using it can be devastating and cost thousands of dollars. The hacker may not just stop at credit card use but may move on into full-scale identity theft. Although unauthorized transactions can be canceled, credit card companies may ask for proof, and the process can be complicated.
The Solution: Some shoppers limit their risk by using a Visa or Mastercard number associated with a card that requires filling up with cash and is not really a credit card. This can work until the card’s money is exhausted, and some companies and services won’t accept such cards.
The high-tech solution is safer and provides spending freedom. Paying with credit card information with a smartphone is common in physical stores and online. There is no need to swipe the physical card, and a mobile payment app or Apple pay creates a one-time code before the transaction can be completed. In addition, many of these apps have encryption to protect your credit card number.
Problem: Buying from Insecure Websites
As the old saying goes, “Consider the source.” Bargains on unfamiliar sites may be tempting, but they are often less secure than larger eCommerce sites. This could be because the site owners have not taken precautions or because scammers run them. Unscrupulous sites can steal information, cheat customers on purchases, and contain malware.
Consequence: Unscrupulous sites can steal information, cheat customers on purchases, and contain malware. This could lead to anything from the user’s computer or device malfunctioning to unauthorized transactions to identity theft.
The Solution: It is often a good idea to stick with eCommerce sites that are known and have a strong reputation. It is also fine to explore new and exciting sites but check for the locked padlock icon to the URL’s left depending on where the address bar is on the browser.
This symbol indicates SSL or Secure Sockets Layer encryption. Another way to tell is if the web address starts with HTTPS rather than HTTPS. Just think of the final “S” standing for “secure.” Some browsers are pro-active and alert the user if they are trying to access any HTTP site rather than HTTPS.
Shop Safely for the Holiday
Holiday shopping online saves time and often money. There is no need to stand in long lines with crowds of people. It is also essential to be realistic about the possible dangers of shopping online and be ready to deal with them. Updating anti-virus software and checking websites for security measures will make online holiday shopping safer.