When faced with a crowded parking lot, pushy salespeople, and the mobs of desperate shoppers, the mall is the last place you want to spend your free time this holiday season. It makes sense to swap your car keys for your laptop’s keyboard, avoiding these chaotic shopping centers while you shop online from the comfort of your own home.
Though snug under your blanket, you aren’t totally safe from your position on the couch. In exchange for a more relaxed shopping experience, you accept a different set of challenges as you share financial data to complete the sale. This guide is here to help you survive the holiday shopping season with your personal data intact. The next time you open a browser to shop, make sure you never do the following:
❌Shop from an unsecured site❌
Step number one: never share your financial information with a website that doesn’t take the appropriate measures to secure your data.
You can make sure the sites you visit are protecting your info by checking in with the address bar. The start of the URL should begin with https://. The ‘s’ in addition to the normal Hyper Text Transfer Protocol implies the site has SSL — or secure socket layer encryption whenever you exchange information with its servers. This shields your credit card number when you click ‘buy now’.
The most popular browsers have similar ways to alert you to the security standards of the site you’re on. Chrome, Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge, Mozilla, and Safari use a fastened padlock to the left of the URL to show a site is safe. When you click this padlock, it shows the site’s connection is secure.
Regardless of your browser, you may notice some sites have the name of the company or organization between the padlock and address. This means the website uses an Extended Validation (EV) certificate. This is the next step of security after the basic SSL, proving the company follows a more rigorous verification process.
❌Launch unusual links from untrusted senders ❌
Once the holiday shopping season arrives, your inbox is probably bursting with unread emails — not with email chains sent by distant family wishing you a happy holiday but with newsletters and messages alerting you of the next big sale. Nestled in besides the legitimate notices, you may have a few scams in your inbox, too.
It may be hard to identify them. Most scammers pose as legitimate services — either trusted brands or financial services like a direct online lender or retail bank. They may even pretend to be the IRS. They use these names to feed off your trust for these genuine brands, then intimidate you into sending your credit number or SSN in a reply.
Legitimate financial services like Bank of America or MoneyKey will send emails, but they’ll never use aggressive language to pressure you into paying off debts. Instead, these genuine services will recommend you visit their site and log into your profile to service their latest request.
Remember this the next time you receive a message supposedly from a lender or the IRS claiming your account’s in arrears, and the only way you can pay it off is through iTunes gift cards. Apply your critical thinking in your inbox and stay away from emails that sound strange.
❌Shop at a Starbucks❌
With a padlock proudly displayed next to the URL, it’s easy to think you’re in the clear. But security is more complex than just the certificates your chosen retailer has. It also involves your choice of Internet.
While it’s tempting to snag the comfy chair by the sun-lit window of a Starbucks, cardamom latte in one hand and your phone in the other, this isn’t the place where you should be doing your shopping.
The free Wi-Fi offered by Starbucks is an unsecured network — meaning there’s no password protecting it — meaning anyone can join it. While the majority of your fellow coffee sippers will only use this connection to check their WhatsApp conversation or browse their wall, this limited security makes it easy for less savory individuals to eavesdrop on your shopping. With the right know-how, they can spy on your phone, tablet, or computer as you type in the digits of your credit card.
Next time you get a craving for a caffeinated treat, take it to go and do your shopping from your home on a secured network. This password-protected connection will shield you from prying eyes.
✓ Be informed and shop safely ✓
Shopping online can be a lot easier than shopping IRL, but it isn’t without its own shortcomings. Luckily, you can easily make up for them by knowing the simple ‘do not’s of online shopping. Stay away from unsecured sites, unusual emails, and unprotected networks. When you shop with your security in mind, you’ll be able to get the most out of shopping online.