Online shopping is no longer a novelty. It’s the reality for most of us—really, who do you know who hasn’t bought something online from Amazon, iTunes, LL Bean or some obscure Internet cat-fancy retailer? Internet sales totaled $289 billion in 2012, according to Statista, an online statistics portal. That’s big business.
But all of that digital activity could open you up to ID theft if the criminals find a way to breach security, so make sure you’re doing safe online shopping to protect your sensitive information. Here are 10 tips to help you keep your ID safe.
1. Verify the business. In “The Wall Street Journal Complete Identity Theft Guidebook,” Terri Cullen says we should verify the validity of businesses or websites before making purchases. Check with the Better Business Bureau or Trust-e, sites that can provide insight into a business’s legitimacy.
If you’re visiting an unfamiliar retailer, you can also find out what other shoppers say. Epinions.com and BizRate have customer reviews, which can help determine a company’s legitimacy, advises the Microsoft Safety and Security Center.
2. Check for encryption. When you are ready to make a purchase, be sure that the URL address begins “https” rather than just “http” before hitting “send.” The extra “s” means your financial and personal information—such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers—is encrypted before being sent into cyberspace, explains PC Magazine.
3. Use a credit card. This is the safest way to make an online purchase, Bank of America says. Credit cards are more secure than debit cards, as most credit cards offer purchase protection in case your card number is stolen, or if that retailer sends you a bad product—or never sends you anything.
4. Never shop through e-mail. E-mail is not protected or encrypted, and any information you send can be hacked by ID thieves, warns US Bank.
5. Go mobile—carefully. The National Retail Federation’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey revealed that 52.6 percent of those who own a smartphone said they would use their device to research products, redeem coupons, use apps to assist in their purchase, and buy holiday gifts and items. Among tablet owners, 70.5 percent will research and shop using their tablet. Not surprisingly, younger shoppers ages 18-24 are even more likely to use a mobile device.
And that’s perfectly fine, says PC Magazine, as long as you use apps provided by the retailers, like Amazon or Target, themselves. “Use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly, without going to the store or the website,” the magazine suggests.
6. Don’t use public computers—or your computer in public. A public computer could store any information you put on it unless you log out successfully, says PC Magazine.
Don’t take the risk. Likewise, using your own computer at a public location opens up your credit card information to “shoulder-surfers” and to more advanced scammers who can hack into the public Internet router. Be smart—shop at home.
7. Update often. CNN writer Heather Kelly reminds you to update your operating system and applications frequently.
These updates patch coding holes and address new security issues that hackers are looking to exploit.
8. Review your statements. Bank of America recommends printing out and saving your online bills, and comparing them to your credit card or bank statement. Report any inconsistencies immediately.
9. Be careful shopping internationally. State and federal consumer laws protect us when we shop in the U.S., but you may not have similar protection when digitally shopping abroad, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
If you have an option, select American-based businesses so you can benefit from existing regulations.
10. Trust your gut. Last but certainly not least, if you have any doubts or worries about the site, listen to your instincts and walk away. Lack of contact information and deals that seem too good to be true are just two of the signs that your vendor may not be legit, according to Bank of America.