Shopping online is commonplace, but it also has the potential to be dangerous. We do it every day, but give your wrong information to the wrong site, or sometimes even the right one as breaches of Target and Home Depot show, and you could be at risk for having your credit or debit card information stolen and used maliciously.
No matter where you shop online or what for and how often, using the right methods of the identity theft protection including agencies that monitor your credit for you is essential. Here are some quick tips for keeping your data safe when shopping online.
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi
All of that free public Wi-Fi is great for checking email or surfing on social media, but someone sitting nearby connected to the same network or even someone you can’t see could be watching your every move and stealing your information. If you type in passwords, credit card numbers, or other data, they can be easily hacked, and someone will have access to your accounts.
If you are going to shop online, turn off your Wi-Fi and use cell data instead, or find a secure network. Remember, even public networks that require a password are not much better. When is the last time that password was changed, and how many people have had access to it already today?
The key is that if you are on public Wi-Fi assume that anything you type is also public. Stay away from entering personal information and passwords when on these networks.
Watch Your Bluetooth Settings
Bluetooth makes a lot of things convenient, but you need to be cautious with both your security settings and automatically connecting to certain devices. A hacker can use this information to gain access to your phone or other device and even mirror what you are doing. Bluetooth is not as secure as a cell signal and can be hacked if your security settings are lax.
Even if you are careful, your device can be vulnerable to a skilled hacker through Bluetooth technology. A good rule of thumb is that if you are going to shop or enter personal information into your browser, have your Bluetooth turned off as well. This is the easiest way to protect you and your data while shopping online.
Use Wallet Payment Methods or a Virtual Credit Card Number
Another good method is to use methods like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal, or Google Pay. These methods give the vendor an approval number, but they never actually see your credit or debit card information. That means if they are hacked, your information is not there for the hacker to access. This is a sure way to protect your card numbers and data. These methods are difficult to hack unless someone has your password or in some cases your fingerprint or face ID.
Not all websites take these forms of payment however. But there is another option. Often Visa, Mastercard, or the card issuer like your bank will have a virtual credit card number option. This means you can create a one-time use credit card number for a specific transaction. It is only good that one time and cannot be used anywhere else again. Even if a hacker were to get the number, it would be useless to them.
These are good methods to hide your number at all when they are available, and are a great way to protect your identity when shopping online.
Check Statements Often
Sometimes you won’t even know you have been hacked right away. Turn on alerts on your card for purchases over a certain amount, and especially when you are doing a lot of online shopping on new websites, check your statements often. If you see charges that are suspicious on your account, call your financial institution right away.
When using the methods above is not possible, use credit cards and not debit cards online. There are limits on your credit card, and the hacker will not have access to your household budget money that is in your checking account. It can take time to get funds back in your account and you will often be hurting for money in the meantime.
Even if a charge is legitimate, it is better to check if it looks suspicious at all. If you need to put a hold on your card until the matter is cleared up, your financial institution can help you with that.
Change Passwords Frequently
It is often easier to use the same password for several things and use it for a long time. This is a bad move though, as if a hacker gets access to one of your accounts, that person also might have access to several of them. For instance, you don’t want to use the same password for Facebook as you do for your bank.
Passwords that are easy to remember are also often easy to guess. Using a password generator that also remembers your passwords for you like iCloud Keychain on Apple devices or the program LastPass is a good way to make it harder for someone to guess passwords. You can even set them to expire from time to time so the program will make you change them.
Even if not, set reminders at least once a quarter to change passwords, and be sure to use a different one for each website. Don’t make a hacker’s job easy. Make it hard for them to access your data.
Install Software Updates
Those pesky software updates, especially for your browser are a real pain. However, most of them have security patches that are very important. In fact, if hackers were not trying to get at your data, you would have a lot fewer updates to install. Don’t skip these or put them off. Update your browser, your computer, and your other devices right away to keep yourself and your data safe.
We all shop online. But we all also need to be aware of the risks, and how to keep control of our data. Start with these tips to keep your identity safe while shopping online.