Shopping online can be a real breeze. Just choose what you want to buy, enter your credit card details and voila, you’ll have your chosen item at your doorstep in a matter of days (or hours, if Amazon and its drone delivery plans take wing). No long queues, no driving all over town hunting for that perfect pair of shoes.
While online shopping is fun, addictive and a lot of things besides that, what sometimes kills the joy of online shopping is the sheer terror of credit card fraud and identity theft. And no, you cannot cower under a pillow and pretend that this will go away. If you shop online, you need to read the following security tips. If you own an online retail store you need to read this even more.
1. Get the Basics Right
Being safe while shopping online is not rocket science. Millions of users successfully shop for their hearts’ desire and more online without ever getting into trouble. Here are a few basics that every online shopper MUST keep in mind.
- Never make the mistake of assigning the same passwords for all your accounts and cards. Use different passwords for each account, make sure your passwords are not easily hackable. With one password, you run the risk of compromising all your accounts with just one crack in your armor. An easy to guess password like your name or date of birth make breaking into your accounts easy as pie. Make passwords a combination of alpha-numeric characters that have nothing to do with any of your personal details like your family members’ names, your wedding anniversary etc. Another key aspect to always remember is to never share your passwords with anyone.
- Be aware of your surroundings when swiping your card. When you hand your card over to the cashier at a store, keep an eye on the cashier while they swipe your card. In case you see the cashier swiping your card on a machine that is not a POS machine, raise the alarms. Chances are the second machine is a dip card reader that steals user information from the magnetic strip of the card. Fraudsters use this data to make duplicates of your card and run up giant shopping bills at your expense.
- Avoid using your credit card on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are accessible with or without a password to anyone who is within range of the network. With people peeping over your shoulder figuratively and literally, it is not a smart idea to carry out credit card transactions in public Wi-Fi zones where your data can be easily intercepted by an unscrupulous stranger.
- Choose only secure sites to carry out credit card transactions. Avoid shopping on sites that look shoddily made – poor selection of images, a very high text to image ratio, spelling errors all over the place etc. Chances are, these are dummy sites set up by credit card fraudsters to capture your payment details and misuse them.
When making any payment online, check if the address bar in the browser shows HTTPS and not HTTP. On the payments page look out for a Verisign logo or a McAfee Security logo that tell you that the site is safe to use. Just a tip, the green lock icon on your browser address bar is a sign that the site you’re browsing is protected by SSL security and your data is being transmitted on a secure connection. Sites powered by ShopIntegrator have this worry of keeping payment details safe taken off their shoulders. ShopIntegrator directly transfers the customer to the payment processor’s site, thus making PCI compliance easier for merchants.
2. Protect Your PC
Playing it safe is sound advice in nearly all walks of life, if you know what I mean 😉
- Secure Your Home WiFi. To begin with protect your home internet from outside users by setting up a strong password for it. Data like your credit card details can be easily hacked into while you transmit them over the internet. A secure home Wi-Fi connection avoids this mess. Another critical thing to do right away is to remove Autofill settings from your browser. The browser tends to store data that you use to fill in forms regularly like your name, address, telephone number, sometimes even credit card details in its memory. Removing this autofill data from your browser’s memory eliminates the possibility of someone else accessing your machine and misusing this data. It also thwarts hacking attempts by not offering identity thieves any rewards for their efforts. Different browsers have different procedures for doing this. Check out the settings section of your respective browser and reset this right away.
- Updated Operating System. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple keep scouring their software for security holes on a continuous basis and release updates and patches to counter any gaps that they find. So the next time your computer asks to restart itself to install some new operating system updates don’t irritatedly postpone the update. Go ahead and keep your operating system updated to avoid falling prey to potential identity thieves on the World Wide Web.
- Updated Browser. Most browsers these days release updates on a regular basis. Either set your browser to automatically update itself when there’s a new release or do it yourself manually without fail. Chrome’s ‘Safe Browsing API List’ is but one example of the many precautions that browsers employ to keep users safe online.
- Strong Antivirus. Another smart, but essential investment for your financial and data security is a good antivirus software. It does not have to be an expensive one. As long it detects and removes spyware or keystroke logging malware from your personal computer and protects your computer from third party attacks, it will do just fine. As with all your other software, keep your virus definitions on your unit up to date to avoid online mishaps.
3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams
The Nigerian Prince story has been done to death on email by fraudsters around the world. It’s gotten so stale that even my Dad knows that it’s all just a scam. But not all scamsters are so naive. Phishing for bank account and credit card details has reached sophisticated levels with many fraudsters posing as your bank representatives asking you for your personal financial details as a matter of routine maintenance. There have been cases of people receiving links inside perfectly innocent looking emails which if clicked can download a malicious keystroke logging malware into your machine.
Large scale scammers even go to the extent of building replicas of bank websites that end up stealing your passwords and other personal details as you access the site. Some easy pointers to avoid being phished:
- Do not open emails from unknown or suspicious looking email IDs
- Avoid opening or downloading any suspicious looking attachments even from known contacts
- Never click on links without verifying where the link leads to. You can easily do this by hovering your mouse over the link in the email for a few seconds. The browser will automatically reveal the destination URL in a separate box.
- Double check logos of banks, spellings and other minor tell-tale signs in emails that deal with financial data.
- No bank or credit card company will ask you for your passwords or other personally identifying information over email. Never pass this information on without double checking with the bank over the phone or in person.
4. Activate Two Factor Authentication for your card
With the number of financial frauds rising by the day, banks and card issuers are becoming wiser and thinking two steps ahead. Many banks now offer users the option of adding an extra level of security to their cards while they carry out online transactions.
Many banks make it a point to call users personally when their card is swiped for a larger than normal amount. This ‘average’ amount is presumably arrived at by taking a median of all the different amounts swiped on the card till date. Banks also tend to call users when transactions are made outside the country of issue of the card.
Two factor authentication takes these basic precautions a notch higher. Instead of relying on just a username and password for a transaction, two factor authentication requires card users to enter a second identifier which they typically carry on their person like a fingerprint scan or a password sent via SMS to a mobile phone, a personal PIN number not stored anywhere else and so on.
Besides banks many other online services too have realized the importance of two factor authentication and actively encourage users to set it up like; Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook etc.
5. Use digital wallets for online transactions
Swiping a credit card can now be replaced by a slew of ingenious payment mechanisms that do not even reveal your card details to the online merchant, thus keeping your identity and financial data safe and sound.
PayPal was the trailblazer in digital wallets which allowed users to transfer money into a seller’s PayPal account from a prepaid PayPal account for any online transactions. It also helped reverse transactions in case of complaints regarding fraud.
The biggest benefit of digital wallets is that you have the option of transferring only as much money you need for your online purchase into your digital wallet. This avoids the scenario of miscreants breaking into your account and emptying it of all its cash.
Now the digital wallet has gone mobile with the introduction of the Google Wallet about four years ago and Apple Pay coming in last year. There are also a bunch of social media payment mechanisms like SnapCash that are gaining in popularity for their sheer convenience and novelty. However the security levels of these social payment mechanisms are yet to be tested and one would do well to tread cautiously in these choppy waters.
Online security during your e-commerce binges is not just the responsibility of the merchant site where you carry out your transactions. It is equally yours. Whether you choose to check users reviews about site’s security online before using a website or use a security app to protect your credit card or activate two factor authentication for your card or even switch to a digital wallet; the idea is to be proactive and work towards avoiding a situation where your financial data is at risk.
By following simple guidelines that typically don’t take much time or resources, one can ensure that one’s hard earned money remains safe and sound without any external threats. Stay safe and happy shopping!
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