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By September 14, 2023September 25th, 2023Blog8 min read

How To Master Online Shopping

5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy and Security

With back-to-school shopping behind us and the scent of pumpkin spice now in the air, there’s no better time of year to prepare for what lies ahead: Holiday Shopping. Eek! The thought of it is unsettling.  But more unsettling is falling victim to cybercrime because a too-good-to-be-true deal appears on your computer screen and being the savvy shopper you are, you click on it and your computer is hacked, your personal data is stolen and your bank account is emptied.

More than ever, tactics used by scammers and cybercriminals to steal our personal information and money are gaining in sophistication. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lists online shopping as No. 2 on its Fraudulent Five list in terms of the number of fraud reports in 2022. Business imposters stole $660 million in 2022. Consumers lost almost $8.8 billion to fraud, up 30% from the year before.

1. Manage your system and browser to protect your privacy
With hackers constantly trying to find new ways into your system, it is recommended that you set your internet security settings to, at least, medium. To adjust these settings, check the Tools or Options menus for how to do this. Update your system and browser regularly, taking advantage of automatic updating when it’s available. Windows Update is a service offered by Microsoft. On Apple systems, patching can be run automatically to update its operating system.

2. Secure your wireless network
When using a wireless network in your home, make sure it is protected, too. A common mistake many people make is leaving the encryption password as the factory default. With a quick internet search, anyone can find the default password for your wireless router. Follow the instructions the router came with to reset the password, or look up the manual on the internet and reset the router with a new, strong password.

  • Create a strong password, keep it to yourself. Consider a password like keys to your house—it is the key to your personal information, so don’t share it! The strongest passwords contain at least 8 characters, upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using common words, pet names or anything else that can be easily guessed. One of the easiest ways to create a strong password is to make an acronym out of a sentence you can remember: “Did John and Susan arrive for dinner at 5?” translates to DJaSafda5?

3. Privatize Your WiFi
If you want to shop in public, walk through the doors of your local shops. In other words, avoid shopping on public WiFi. Wireless networks on public hotspots might not be secure, and you should avoid sending any personal information. As an alternative, you can buy your own hotspot—a mobile broadband device that plugs into your computer, laptop, PDA, or smartphone and uses a mobile phone signal to provide high-speed internet access. They are sold by cell phone companies and require a monthly service plan, but can be affordable when bundled with your existing service.

4. Know Thy Browser
You probably know the basics of browser navigation already. A browser is something we all use every time we access the internet, from a desktop or mobile device, either type a website address you know into the address box at the top, or Google a search term, then click on a link from the results. Think of browsers as the go-between software, translating the computer code that makes up web pages to the text and images we see, or playing a video or audio clip. Without this sequence of events, you could not watch YouTube videos, shop online or check email.  Knowing more about your browser and how it works is a good first defense against cyber crime. 

  • Address bar: Located at the top of the browser, this is where you type the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the website you want to access.
  • Add-ons or extensions: Extensions are little bits of software that add functionality to the browsing experience. These can add elements in, like pdf making capability or take things away, like unwanted ads. Some add-ons are included with the browser and can be added as an option. Others can be downloaded through an app store. Access your extensions at the top of the browser, usually indicated by a puzzle piece icon.
  • Bookmarks: If there is a website you visit often, or want to easily find again, you can bookmark it and easily navigate to it in the future without having to type out the URL. Bookmarks are commonly indicated with a star icon next to the search bar, though on Safari you have to go to the share menu first.
  • Browser history: Your browser history is a record of what websites you’ve visited. The amount of history kept depends on your settings. Keeping a browsing history can help find information again after a browsing window is closed. There are times you might want to erase your browsing history, especially if you are on a shared computer.
  • Browser window: A browser window is the main feature of a browser that lets you view the web page content.
  • Cookies: Text files that store information about you and the data you share with a particular website. Cookies can be helpful by saving your login info or shopping cart, but they can also be a privacy concern. When given a choice, select the option to only allow strictly necessary cookies. It’s also a good idea to clear out the cookies regularly in your browser cache.
  • Home button and home page: A browser allows you to set a default home page- your starting point when you open the browser. This is done in settings. For example, on Chrome, for many users, the browser opens to a Google search page. On other Google accounts, someone might set the default address  to the Google News or Amazon home page. Yours could open to a favorite site or page you visit most often. After viewing other webpages, you can easily navigate back to where you started by hitting the home icon, which is typically located next to the search bar at the top of the page.  
  • Navigation buttons: Also at the top of the browser are arrows that indicate going back a page, forward a page, or reloading a page.
  • Tabs: Each time you open a new web page during a browsing session, it will add a tab at the very top, above the search bar. You can switch between tabs by clicking on them to view different pages you have opened. A word of caution though- having too many tabs open will slow down your browsing experience. You should also close all tabs before closing your browser, especially if on a shared computer.

5. Look for the HTTPS and the Lock
Things to look for when shopping online include “https”  in the address bar of the shopping cart, or a locked padlock icon in the browser window. These symbols indicate that the website you’re visiting is using current encryption standards to ensure the safety of your data. Other important things to note include:

  • Never buy anything online with a credit card if it doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You’ll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS–instead of HTTP. 
  • Also, an icon of a locked padlock will be found to the left of the URL in the address bar (this may vary depending on the browser). 
  • You might also want to check the website’s privacy policy and look for opportunities to opt out of information sharing. Smaller storefronts might not have sophisticated enough security (unless they use a secure third-party payment system such as PayPal), but big name stores can be vulnerable to data hackers, too. 
  • Don’t store passwords on the site and be sure to clear your browsing history and completely close all windows after making an online purchase.

The bottom line
Online shopping gives any internet-connected shopper access to a world of choices, all from the comfort of your home. But with anything online, there are risks. That’s why it’s crucial, every time you log on, to use best practices to protect your identity, personal data and financial information. With the right habits and a little bit of know-how, anyone can enjoy the benefits and convenience of the online shopping experience.