How to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. While in the past, long lines used to forming in front of stores long before opening hours when a new product, such as a smartphone, was coming out, now many people opt to stay in the comfort of their homes. Good old shopping is a nightmare for some, hobby for others, unavoidable necessity for the majority of us. And yet there is an easy way not to be afraid – just be ahead of the crowd (or namely outside of the crowds altogether) by doing your shopping online. That is commendable and certainly a sound decision when it comes to how you can best use your time. You are motivated and ready – but first, please allow us to remind you about a few basic online shopping safety tips. We are certain that you will not regret following these few points of advice – after all, no one wants to lose their credit card information or identity on the Internet. These are in no particular order, but all equally important to your online well-being.


Keep Your Antivirus Software Up-to-date

As cheesy as it may sound, advice to keep your antivirus program updated falls on deaf ears much too often. Before even embarking on any serious activity on the Internet, it is an absolute necessity to check in with your antivirus and firewall software to make sure that you are safe from direct threats to your computer security and your information safety. Checking whether your antivirus is in good shape only takes a minute – and yet the repercussions of skipping this step can be quite terrifying and may include the loss of control over your computer, physical damage to the hardware components, and stolen information. Many Internet service providers may have free or specially discounted antivirus software available for their customers. Research your options and make sure to conduct (or set up) regular and live checks of your system, as well as the monitoring of incoming mail and connection attempts.


Don’t Forget About Malware and Spyware

Focusing on viruses, it’s easy to forget that there are other types of threats out there that can be caught by the same software, if it’s of high quality. Malicious software, or malware, and spying software, or spyware, are real dangers that are abundant online. These are the programs specifically designed to harm your computer and steal your personal and financial information. Not having malware and spyware protection installed is akin to walking into a dark forest without a light and hoping for the best. This step, together with the previous one, is a must. Otherwise, you are making it extremely difficult for criminals to steal your data and your money. Importantly, as opposed to what is shown in the movies, malware and spyware does not manifest itself on your computer screen in any obvious ways. More often than not, these programs hide far behind your active windows, which makes them extremely difficult to detect and eradicate. Many victims of cybercrime have no idea that the malicious codes collecting their information and tracking their activities are active in their computer for many months at a time.


Do Not Let Your Computer Be Too Helpful

If you are shopping at several places time and time again, it may be tempting to make use of your computer’s constant recommendations to start saving your passwords, user names, and other login information. While, to an extent, the auto-fill functionality of your web browser, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, saves time and effort, caution must be exercised. Remembering your name and postal address is one thing – but what about your passwords and credit card information? Is it really that hard to take out your card and punch in the number and expiration date when needed? Your computer would offer to save all types of information, and it is always your discretion that will decide whether a particular piece of data should be remembered or not. If the decisions are too frequent or too difficult, it may be the best idea to turn the auto-complete functionality off altogether.


Shop Where You Know

Every year, the World Wide Web adds on several million websites. Some of these remain for good and become important, trusted, and famous. Others – not so much. Many of the websites that appear for a short period of time and then vanish are related to ecommerce, the process of selling and buying products and services on the Internet. The success of websites such as Amazon and Ebay invites copycats as well as unscrupulous attempts to use online commerce for the purposes of fraud and information harvesting. The rule of thumb here is “shop where you know”. Many gray area websites that could be safe or unsafe, depending on your luck, would try to attract you through banner and pop up ads. Use caution. Only enter your financial information when you know that the connection is encrypted and the transaction is going through an organization that you can trust, such as MasterCard or PayPal.


Have Strong Passwords

Just as with several aforementioned points, too often, we choose convenience over safety, and in the world of hacking, malware, and online con artists, this simply won’t do. Almost any website that has anything to do with financial transactions would make you create an account with a username and a password. While the username, rather predictably, usually has relevance to the person’s real name, the password is often a challenge. In particular, it’s a difficult task when the password needs to be changed every few months or must contain specific elements to be recognized by the system in question as a high quality protective element. The presence of capital letters, numbers, underscores, and special symbols takes the relevance of a password to the next level – this is, however, also what makes the password more difficult to remember or create several diverse variants of. As hard as it may be, it is in your best interests to create difficult and unique passwords, and to use different passwords on every website that you use. This would make it more arduous to try and steal your information and your identity – you will no longer be an easy target for online criminals of all stripes. An additional note on this point – do not write down your passwords and store them on your desktop, either electronic or physical. As simple as this advice may sound, too many people have fallen prey to those looking of the passwords by putting them in the most obvious place possible. The best practice is not to write down passwords at all, of course.


Use Common Sense

Quite often, the victims of online crime, in retrospect, are unable to explain their own actions that led to their information being exposed. Some click on a link in an email from a person they don’t know. Others follow a flashy and gaudy ad, which leads to a trap. Others notice during a financial transaction, that their own browser worryingly indicates that the connection is no longer encrypted, and yet continue entering their credit card info. Others are taken aback by a very helpful live operator that wants to assist them through their purchase. Examples of illogical and unsafe behaviour on the Internet abound, and in order to not become a part of this statistic, it is important to keep common sense in mind. If something looks too good to be true, it is. If something looks fishy, it probably is. Trust your gut feeling and take your time. An offer that is not to be missed and that only gives you a few minutes to decide must be unsafe. A website that is too pushy asking you for your information must be onto something. You may be thinking that the notion of common sense can spoil your online shopping experience and make you miss out on great deals, but do consider that millions of dollars in damage is done every year by those finishing out financial and personal information.


A Word About Online Banking

The era of email money transfers and online paperless bill payments certainly has its many charms. Doing your banking on the Internet saves times and trees, but also comes with its own pitfalls. Online banking certainly must be done only from your own devices and not from a public computer. An open and insecure public wifi network should not be considered safe enough to do banking through it. As much as it is convenient to do your online banking while shopping, try to avoid having your banking information open at the same time as visiting an unfamiliar website. This certainly feeds into the overall notion of using common sense and staying safe in all circumstances to the best of your ability.


Have Fun and Stay Safe

Using modern technology to make your shopping experience more enjoyable is commendable – it is certainly a practice that is gaining in popularity with each passing year. Given all of this serious advice, one may presume that being safe on the Internet means giving up on having any fun while doing your shopping online. That is adamantly not so. Simply remember that there are plenty of good, safe, trustworthy, well established websites and online stores out there. Shop with them. Create difficult and unique passwords and usernames. Avoid taking every shortcut that your computer, browser, USB stick or software suggests. Keep your online experience safe through a state of the art antivirus, anti-malware, and anti-software system. Trust your gut instinct. Remember that it is always better to be safe than sorry – too many people become victims of preventable cybercrimes every year. In brief, do all of your shopping safely and without regrets. Have fun!

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