E-commerce can put your personal data and money at risk. Here’s how to shop online safely.
Online shopping has been steadily increasing year over year, with a boost during the pandemic that doesn’t show signs of abating. In fact, online sales in the U.S. reached a staggering $278 billion for the second quarter of 2023, an 82% increase from pre-pandemic numbers, according to online intelligence firm Marketpulse. While shopping over the internet brings obvious benefits—convenience, broad selection, ease of research and comparison, and, of course, lower prices—it can also put your personal data and money at greater risk. According to the Federal Trade Commission, online shopping scams were the second most reported type of fraud in 2022.
With fraudulent businesses trying to steal from consumers and cybercriminals poised to hijack online transactions, shopping online can pose serious danger. By staying informed of the threats facing online consumers and taking some precautionary steps, however, you can keep yourself and your family safe while shopping online. Check out these cybersecurity tips for your next online shopping venture.
The Risks of Online Shopping
For many consumers, the first step to making any purchase begins on the web. Whether you’re researching the best options, reading user reviews, or comparison shopping to find the best prices, you often start by searching online and visiting both large online marketplaces and small specialty internet stores before making a purchase—even if that purchase is ultimately made in a brick-and-mortar store.
While the convenience of doing all the legwork from your couch is tremendous, every link you click can put both your financial assets and your personal information at risk. To stay safe, keep these common pitfalls in mind as you shop:
1. Data Breaches
Every time you enter information for an online store—like a credit card, username and password, or other personal data—it’s vulnerable to a data breach if the store’s security is compromised.
Here’s how to protect yourself against data breaches:
- Never reuse login credentials across different sites.
- Use strong passwords and/or a password manager.
- Enable multi factor authentication. (This usually involves sending a separate code to your cell phone.)
- Don’t save credit card information on shopping sites.
- Set up text alerts to signal unusual activity in your Fifth Third Bank account.
2. Fake Shopping Sites
While legitimate online shops are vulnerable to data breaches, criminals can also set up fraudulent sites that are designed to look like an online store to trick you into providing payment information or personal data that can be exploited.
Here’s how to protect yourself from fake shopping sites:
- Only shop on websites you know to be reputable.
- Type in URLs directly (versus clicking a link).
- Look for contact information including a physical address and phone number.
- Check the URL for misspellings and grammatical issues.
- Check for browsers that display a "Not secure" warning.
- Exercise caution when reviewing items listed for sale that appear too good to be true.
Anyone who’s ever shopped online knows that your email address inevitably gets added to the vendor’s mailing lists (as well as some third-party lists depending on privacy policies). While many are legitimate marketing tools, scammers will also target online shoppers with deceptive emails that sound legitimate, but include links or attachments that can lead to malware or stolen credentials.
Here’s how to protect yourself from phishing scams:
- Don’t call numbers, click links, or download attachments in email without verifying the sender’s identity.
- Never divulge sensitive information, such as account numbers, passwords, or authentication codes to unknown parties. Keep your apps and all software updated with security patches.
- Invest in antivirus/anti-malware software.
- Sign up for Identity Alert from Fifth Third Bank to get immediate notification of strange activity within your bank account, credit score, and more.
4. Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks
Shopping while accessing the internet over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot, is especially risky. Without appropriate security protocols in place, cybercriminals can intercept transmitted data that may be unencrypted, including payment information and other personal data. Additionally, hackers can perform "session hijacking" and take control of your active web session to gain access to your accounts and sensitive information.
Here’s how to protect yourself from being hacked while using public Wi-Fi:
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks and never shop online or access financial accounts if you do.
- Use a virtual private network, or VPN, to create a secure connection and encrypt your internet traffic.
- Enable multi factor authentication to make it more difficult for hackers to access your accounts through session hijacking.
- Log off every site and account you access when you finish your session.
Online Shopping Safety Best Practices
The convenience of shopping on the web puts you at greater risk for identity theft and fraud, but following best practices can help keep you safe whenever you shop online. Here are some of the key steps to take:
- Practice good password hygiene. Use strong passwords and never reuse credentials.
- Enable multi factor authentication. Augment usernames and passwords with additional authentication factors such as a texted code or biometric authentication.
- Know where you’re shopping. Shop only at reputable sites and type in URLs directly. Never click on links or attachments in emails from vendors without verifying the sender’s identity.
- Use a credit card. Don’t buy from sites that only accept wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards. Credit cards provide protection from liability for fraudulent charges that even debit cards may not.
Keeping these online shopping tips in mind will certainly help secure your personal and financial information. Should you need additional help or have questions about recent activity in your Fifth Third Bank savings account, checking account, credit card, or debit card, contact us as soon as possible.