Online shopping is steadily becoming the favored way for people to purchase gifts for loved ones over the holiday season. In 2015, shoppers spent $56.43 billion online during the holidays in the US. This impressive number accounts for nearly a quarter of all 2015 e-commerce sales in the US!
Of course, along with the steady rise of e-commerce, there are also a growing number of hackers and thieves looking to profit from your personal information.
Simply put, hackers and thieves love the holiday shopping season. A combination of scams, malware, and other tricks await unsuspecting online shoppers. However, taking a few simple precautions can save you from potential headaches.
With Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year being right around the corner, the need to reinforce online security is critical. Let’s go over five ways you can better protect yourself when shopping online during the holidays!
Five Ways to Stay Safe When Shopping Online
1. Make Sure the Website is Secure
When purchasing something online and entering your credit card information, make sure the website you are on has SSL encryption to protect transactions. SSL allows websites to prove their identity as well as encrypting any sensitive information you submit. You can read more about SSL technology in this Beginner’s Guide.
Checking a website for SSL encryption is pretty easy if you know where to look. It could be a green address bar (extended validation certificates), a padlock in the address bar, or simply an “https://” web address (as opposed to “http://”). You can click on these seals and badges to further view and confirm the business’s identity.
2. Give as Little Personal Information as Possible
When shopping online, you are nearly always required to submit contact information or personal details. Make sure you are only providing information that is needed, as any additional information could be used to target you with advertisements. Worst case scenario: you are supplying potential hackers with extra information that can be used to identify your personal details.
If you can, try to use throwaway email addresses (such as Guerrilla Mail) when registering for e-commerce websites. Additionally, avoid connecting your social media accounts with any online stores. Connecting accounts can lead hackers to your Facebook or Google account. The less personal data about you that exists on the web, the harder it is for hackers to steal your identity.
3. Pay with PayPal When Available
When available as a payment option, try to use PayPal. This gives you increased privacy and payment security. While not accepted everywhere, PayPal is available at a growing number of online retailers.
A great feature of PayPal is that you can claim money back if you’ve been scammed or tricked. If you don’t have a PayPal account, or don’t want one, use a credit card rather than a debit card for increased protection.
4. Look Out for Phishing Emails
During the holiday season, online stores and retailers send out a massive quantity of promotional and sales emails. While most of these are sincere attempts to attract your business to the website, the threat of phishing emails also increases during the holidays. Phishing emails may look just like real emails, but they actually trick you into submitting personal information that can be used by hackers.
Take the time to double check which email address sent you the email, and never click on a link in an email that asks you to submit account details. Check out these helpful tips on how to spot phishing attempts.
5. Take Advantage of the Benefits of a VPN
Of course, one of the best ways to protect yourself is by using a VPN when shopping online. A VPN will encrypt data communicated between you and the e-commerce site, keeping it secure from any external threats.
Using a VPN could also give you some discounts, although this trick doesn’t work all the time. An online store might offer different pricing for certain goods, depending on your location. By connecting to a different location using a VPN, you might be able access these region-specific discounts. Purchasing video games, music streaming subscriptions or apps for your mobile device could all potentially cost less.
Once again, using a VPN when shopping online isn’t a sure-fire money-saving tactic, but might be worth taking a look at if you have some extra time. Keep in mind it is slightly similar to the “cheaper flights and hotels with VPN” theory.
A VPN also offers some of the best protection when it comes to online shopping. Investing a couple of dollars for a VPN during the holidays could save you from a big headache further down the road. Check out my top recommendation, ExpressVPN, or use the BestVPN.com comparison tool to find the VPN service that is right for you.
Conclusion: Don’t forget common sense!
The above tips are solid ways to increase your security and privacy when online shopping for the holiday season. Everyone should use common sense to handle the craziness. Shoppers are becoming increasingly prone to buy things at the last minute, allowing easy mistakes to slip through.
Just like you wouldn’t open up your wallet to a thief, you don’t want to give a hacker access to your personal information. Avoid suspicious sites: deals that are too good to be true are probably scams. Just like with traditional shopping, staying proactive can you save you a lot of time and frustration in the end.
An excellent way to stay safe when shopping online is by being aware of the various threats on the internet. Sign up for the BestVPN.com newsletter to get weekly insight and tips into improving online security!