Buy all the thingz! Safety tips for online shopping

Hey guys! I’ve been a bit under the weather so I haven’t managed to get as much done lately. I’m hoping to catch up with the February reviews and empties over the weekend (before March subscriptions start arriving!). In the mean time I want to have a quick discussion about how to stay safe and protect your identity and financial information while shopping online.

Recently a cult brand that’s much loved/hated amongst the makeup addicted had a security breach that resulted in many customers having their credit card information stolen and used fraudulently. While I don’t want to point fingers and discuss the specifics of that particular case, I do want to discuss ways to help protect yourself from identity theft when shopping online as, let’s be real here, it could happen anywhere.

Some credit card companies and banks are really good at helping you when your data has been threatened; for example when Target had their big data breach my credit card company flat out reissued new cards to every account holder that had shopped at Target recently (including myself) whether our data was compromised or not. Sure it was a little inconvenient having to update my info everywhere but it kept me safe and fraud-free. Not all financial institutions are that forward thinking though so we as consumers have to be!

Here are some tips for keeping your bank account safe while you haul all the things online! No one activity will ensure your complete safety, but the more you layer these best practices up, the more protection you have!

  1. Check the address bar for the site. You want the URL for the site (especially the cart and any check out pages or pages where you edit your user/billing data) to start with https:// and not http://. The “s” on there denotes that the site is SSL encrypted which adds another layer of security for you. Most browsers will display a little lock icon in the URL bar to denote this as well.  In addition, look for seals for secure payment services like VeriSign or Norton Secured on payment pages

    SSL lock in browsers

    SSL indication in browsers. Top to bottom – Chrome (Mac), Firefox (Mac), Safari.

  2. Don’t rely on a search engine to get you to the site. If you know the site’s URL type it in your browser directly. It’s possible for search results to be rigged to direct you to a site that looks like the one you want but is really a scam (e.g. sending you to a .net rather than a .com or changing the spelling of the domain by a letter). Malware and viruses on your computer can also intercept your searches to send you to their own spoof pages. Along these same lines, avoid clicking on pop up ads, even if they look interesting. Go to the site directly if you see an advertisement that interests you.

  3. Make sure your computer itself is secure. Keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date and run scans regularly. Also, avoid purchases on public computers or unsecured networks where your data could be intercepted. If you have roommates, make sure your personal computer isn’t being used by them for questionable things. You don’t want your roomie’s porn habit to cost you your bank balance.

  4. Make sure you use secure passwords both on your computer itself and on the web! Do not use the same password in multiple places. For example, if a hacker managed to figure out your log in for your credit card company’s website and you’re using the same log in details for your bank, you’re making it that much easier for them to hack it. This goes for shopping sites, too!
  5. Use the most secure payment method you can. Some credit card companies will let you generate a one time use credit card number that can only be used for a single purchase; my dad’s bank does this and that’s how he helped pay for my textbooks in college. I’m pretty sure it even let him set a maximum on the transaction size. If your bank or credit card company will let you do this, do it! If your bank isn’t that snazzy consider using PayPal with a credit (not debit) card as your PayPal purchase method. Their purchase protection will help give you an added layer of security. If the site won’t let you use PayPal, shop with a credit card not your debit card. If scammers get a hold of your debit card they can drain your bank account. If they get a hold of your credit card they can run it up, sure, but you’ll be able to catch them and dispute the charges before draining your bank account to pay for them.

  6. Double check your bank and credit card statements often and look at them carefully. Many scammers will try a small charge first hoping that it will go unnoticed by you or your institution’s fraud flags before they go for the big charges. Scrutinize your statements!

  7. Check your credit reports on a regular basis. Charging the heck out of the accounts you know you have aren’t the only way scammers can get you. If they get enough data about you they could open up new accounts in your name and ruin your credit history. You don’t have to sign up for a fancy expensive credit monitoring service to do this. You’re entitled to 1 free credit report from each of the major bureaus every year. Personally I think it’s better to space them out and check a different bureau every 4 months than it is to get your free report at all 3 bureaus at once and then let your credit slide for the rest of the year. Check one bureau now, then in 4 month check another one, and 4 months later check the third. If you find something fraudulent on one, by all means pull all 3 so you can shut down the activity, but as long as things are looking good one every 4 months should keep you going throughout the year. If you do want more visibility into your credit than that, see if your bank or credit card company has a credit monitoring program that may be cheaper than some of the monitoring sites you see advertised on TV.

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