How to protect your information when you shop online

lockIdentity and financial theft are, unfortunately, real risks in today’s technology-based world, especially with the growing trend of shopping online. Although advancements and developments are made everyday, the systems are not foolproof and you’re not completely protected from hackers or others that try to access your personal and financial information. That’s why it’s more important than ever to know how to protect yourself from internet fraud and theft.

SSL encryption

One of the best inventions and developments in the way of financial information protection online is Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. So far, this is the best protection out there for your credit card, so make sure you only purchase items on websites that have this protection (the website should have an SSL logo on the site, and you’ll know this encryption is active when the web address on the page where you enter your credit card information starts with “https”). It is still possible that hackers will be able to get at your data despite a site having this encryption, but it will be much less likely.

Hacking software

Identity and credit card theft is a huge concern, and a real risk if you are shopping online, especially because hackers can gain access to your information by using special software designed for this purpose. For example, spyware is software that can be downloaded to your computer without your knowledge, and used to gain access to your information or monitor your movements, among other malicious capabilities.

Phishing is another growing problem. This is when you, the customer, is fooled into giving your personal information or credit card number to a website that is less than honest and misrepresenting itself (posing as something they’re not in order to trick you into giving them your information). If a website asks you for information such as your social security number, or if the web address just doesn’t look right (Facebooks.com instead of Facebook.com, for example, or maybe the web address has nothing to do with the supposed name of the website; pay attention to detail).

To protect yourself from these types of risks, make sure you have effective and up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-phishing programs installed on your computer.

Tips on how to best protect your information

First of all, be careful about what information you give out online (and over the phone too). Even if you think you are protected from hacker technology, you may not be protected from human manipulation, so watch out for that as well. Vendors do not have the right to ask you for your social security number, for example, so that should be a red flag if you’re asked for that information. In fact, obtaining your social security number is the main way that criminals steal your identity, so keep this number safe and protected.

When shopping online try to only purchase from stores you know. If you want to try a new website for the first time, just make sure make sure you have access to their complete contact information (phone number, email, and a physical address), make sure you can find online reviews of the website before you shop there (look for reviews elsewhere, not on their website as they could be fake), and make sure the company has enrolled in the trust mark or trust seal programs. Also, read over the policies of the website to determine if they are fair and transparent, and make sure there are no unexpected charges before you check out that only showed up at the end of the transaction and that you weren’t expecting.

You should also make sure the site has a privacy policy posted. The policy should specifically state that they will not share your private information with others without your consent. Above all, if you’re going to shop online, no matter what website it is (a well-known retailer or not), make sure the site is SSL protected (the web address on the credit card information entry screen starts with “https”).

Using strong passwords is a great way to protect all of your personal and financial information from hackers and criminals. A strong password is usually relatively long, has various types of characters (letter, numbers and symbols such as underscores), uses both upper and lower cases, and even has spaces. Also, don’t reuse passwords; instead, have a different password for each website you use.

Don’t open any suspicious email or click on any links if you don’t know what they are, even if the email came from someone you know personally (hackers will use the email of your contacts to get you to click on something which may then download spyware or another malicious software on your computer).

Finally, do your online shopping from home, or at least on a secure and password protected internet connection, because public Wi-Fi networks are easier to hack. If you have Wi-Fi at home make sure it is password protected. Also, don’t ever use a public computer (for example, at an internet cafe or public library) to do any online transactions involving your personal information or credit card number, as these computers may already have spyware computer downloaded on them, and are usually much less protected.

Keeping your credit card safe

Online shopping makes paying with a credit card almost anonymous (no signature or face-to-face transaction is necessary), so it’s important to keep the number and security code safe from criminals that may want to steal it and use it to make online purchases where they don’t have to sign and it’s a lot easier to pretend to be you. So, as a rule, if you get your credit card statements in the mail, make sure you shred them before throwing them out. You should also make sure you keep tabs on any movements on your credit cards of debit cards.

If you use online banking, check your accounts frequently for any purchases or charges and make sure they were made by you. Finally, in case your credit card number is stolen and used to make purchases, make sure your credit card company has a zero-liability policy that protects you in case you are the victim on online theft or fraud.

Shopping online can be fun, effective, efficient and very convenient, but it is very important to keep your personal and financial information safe from criminals and hackers. You’ll be very glad you did.