Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience

Online shopping is more popular than ever. While its popularity has been steadily trending upwards over the last decade or so, the COVID pandemic has really caused online shopping’s prevalence to spike. With more people working from home and fewer people travelling, the convenience of ordering items and having them delivered to your home with just a few mouse clicks has really changed the way many people complete their common, everyday errands. 

Even as the pandemic eases and more people begin to resume their pre-pandemic activities, online shopping continues to thrive. However, along with the ease of online shopping – which includes ordering from websites as well as through mobile apps – comes an increased risk of consumer-based crimes such as identity theft and phishing scams. 

According to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), it is extremely important to take special precautions when shopping online. Why? Because these precautions make it more difficult for cybercriminals to steal your data and potentially ruin your finances. 

The top three ways cybercrooks target online shoppers are by intercepting insecure transactions, creating fraudulent websites and emails (phishing), and grabbing data from the hard drives of vulnerable computers. 

hand on a computer keyboard
Online shopping can be fun and convenient. By taking a few safety precautions, you can help protect your data from cybercriminals. (Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

But you can protect yourself. Here are a few ways to make sure you are keeping your data as safe as possible when shopping online. 

Use a credit card. While this advice may seem counterintuitive for some people – after all, are we not told to limit credit card use? – it is so much easier to dispute fraudulent charges on a credit card than on a debit card. There are more consumer protections for credit card purchases than debit card purchases. Also, fraudulent debit card purchases can easily leave your account balance depleted, which may cause overdrafts and other problems. 

Make sure your data is being encrypted. Only purchase items from websites whose URL (the website address) begins with “https” instead of just “http.” Secure websites also have a small padlock icon either next to the web address at top of the page or in the bottom corner of the page. The placement of the icon varies by web browser, but each browser should put the icon in the same place for all secure pages. If the icon is in an odd place for your web browser, it may be a fraudulent website. 

Be careful with shopping apps. Mobile apps make online shopping even easier, since you can purchase items from just about anywhere with a device you hold in the palm of your hand. But before purchasing anything through an app, be sure the app describes how your data will be used and how it will be secured. There is no legal liability with money stored in a shopping app or on a gift card. In other words, unless otherwise stated, you are completely responsible for all charges made through a shopping app. 

Check your statements. The best way to recognize fraudulent charges is to periodically check your credit card and bank statements. At least once a month (more often is even better), look at each statement and see if there is anything that seems odd or unfamiliar to you. If you find something, contact the credit card company or bank immediately to explore your options. 

These are just a few ways you can help keep your data safe from cyberthieves. It is perfectly okay to enjoy the convenience of online shopping, but please just do it safely. 

Want more information? This webpage from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) provides a list of great online shopping safety tips.

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution. 


Posted: March 28, 2022

Category: Money Matters, UF/IFAS Extension, WORK & LIFE
Tags: Cybersecurity, Online Shopping

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