Shopping Online? Help Keep Your Identity and Financial Information Safe

Reading time: 3 minutes

Highlights:

  • Shopping online may raise your risk of being targeted by hackers and fraudsters
  • Be wary of emails, text messages and pop-up ads
  • Don't share unnecessary personal data on shopping sites

There's no denying it can be more convenient to shop from home (or anywhere with WiFi), as opposed to battling traffic and crowded stores. But shopping online may also raise your risk of being targeted by hackers and fraudsters out to swipe your personal or financial information. 

There are some steps you can take to help protect your information from falling into the wrong hands, however. Here are some safe online shopping suggestions to keep in mind:

Be careful where you shop. Make sure shopping sites have “https://” in the url. Web addresses with https:// and the lock icon indicate extra measures were taken to help secure your information.

Think before you click. If you get what looks like a great deal via email or text message, take a minute before you click on a link or open an attachment. The message could be a phishing attempt with the goal of tricking you into clicking a link or attachment that could provide scammers access to your information or download malware on your computer. 

On a computer, you can hover over the link to see where it will take you. And whether it’s an email or a text message, double-check the email address or phone number the message came from. Is it someone you know, or from a business you are familiar with? Even if the answer is yes, you might want to confirm the message is legitimate before clicking on a link or attachment.

Don’t trust pop-up ads. Install an ad blocker on your browser to help guard against phishing scams that might lure you into clicking on a bogus ad. 

If you find yourself on a shopping site you aren’t familiar with, it’s worth checking the retailer’s online reviews. You might also want to see if the company is accredited by the Better Business Bureau -- an organization that is "dedicated to fostering honest and responsive relationships between businesses and consumers," according to its website.

Steer clear if a site is poorly designed, has broken links or doesn’t provide a way to contact the company. If a site asks for your Social Insurance number, that may be a red flag for online fraud. 

Don’t share unnecessary personal data, such as your birthday. You might be missing out on a retailer’s birthday offer, but if hackers gain access to this data, they’ll have personal information about you that could potentially be used to impersonate you online.

Use credit cards instead of debit cards. By law, your maximum liability in the case of fraud can’t be more than $50, if you report the fraud immediately to the card issuer and have taken reasonable steps to help safeguard your account information. In addition, credit cards aren’t linked to your bank account like debit cards. If your debit card falls into the wrong hands, a fraudster could access your account. 

While you’re making your purchase, don’t save your payment information on the website. If the site is compromised by online hackers or fraud, they could get access to this information.

Update your antivirus software before you shop. This can reduce your risk of infection from malware or viruses.  

Check your network. If you’re using a private WiFi network, make sure that it’s only accessible using a strong password. If you have to use a public network, you may want to access the web using a virtual private network (VPN) connection, which helps you securely browse the Internet. There are free VPN services available. You may also want to avoid activities like banking or online purchases on public WiFi. Remember, just because a network requires a password doesn't mean it's secure.

Avoid using the same password across shopping websites – if one website is compromised, all your accounts using that password could be accessed. 

And lastly, keep an eye on your credit reports and banking account statements for possible fraudulent activity in the months to come. If anything looks suspicious, you can contact the lender or creditor and your financial institutions. Regularly checking your credit reports can help spot any activity you don’t recognize, which may be a sign of potential identity theft. See how to get a free copy of your Equifax credit report

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