Online shopping has become the most ideal method for retail customers to buy products. Almost everyone does at least a portion of their shopping online these days. A phenomenon that has increased significantly because of the global Pandemic, since most of us are stuck at home.

Shopping online allows customers to compare product prices between multiple retailers in a short period of time while remaining in the comfort of their own home. It also presents potential buyers with the opportunity to research the product and check out some user reviews before making a purchase.

However, there is an inherent risk in doing your shopping online. You should be fully aware of existing threats and how to best protect yourself from them. In this article I’m going to discuss the risks and potential harm of online shopping as well as the most effective methods you can use to guarantee a safe online shopping experience.

What are the security risks associated with online shopping?

In order to safely shop online, it is essential to know the possible threats you may encounter when surfing the Internet. When you buy a product online, you’re exposing personal and financial information. Hackers will deploy any necessary method to steal that valuable information and leave you holding the bag.

Here are some of the most common and dangerous threats you might encounter while shopping online:

  • Adware: Is a form of Malware that hides itself on your device and serves you advertisements, monitor your online behavior and tendencies so it can target you with specific ads.
  • Fake Online Stores: Cybercriminals set up fake online shopping platforms to trick users into willingly giving away their sensitive information or waste their money on bogus products.  
  • Identity Theft: This occurs on fake websites or by legit online sellers accidentally exposing their users through a data breach. Cybercriminals steal personally identifiable information and sell it on the dark web or use it in another scam by impersonating that person online. 
  • Fake Apps: Cybercriminals try to imitate online retailer apps by creating a fake version that will instead steal your credit card details, credentials, and other personal information. 
  • Data Breaches: Cybercriminals get unauthorized access to a legitimate website and steal the users’ financial and personal information. Although no one is immune from data breaches, pick retailers and services with decent security standards.
  • Unsecured Wi-Fi: A hacker can target public Wi-Fi connections and easily exploit your device t o steal valuable information. Unencrypted and unprotected networks are extremely easy to exploit, you should never make a purchase on a public Wi-Fi connection.

Being aware of these potential threats and methods that scammers and cybercriminals use to steal your information can help you determine what to do in order to avoid such situations.

Tips For safe Online Shopping 

In order to safely shop online, you must follow a few simple rules. Starting with some basics, ask yourself a couple of important questions before making any purchase online. Here’s some questions you should always keep in mind:

  1. Stop: Am I being rushed to make a purchase? Is all the information about the product available?
  2. Think: Does this offer make sense? What are the risks involved?
  3. Investigate: Is this a legitimate business? What are other customers saying about it?

Below you’ll find some tools and methods you can use to stay safe while shopping online.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A Virtual Private Network is a security tool that you can use to protect your data and privacy when shopping online. This service hides your IP address and uses encryption to make sure that your online traffic is secure and protected from any unwanted surveillance. Using a VPN will create a private network where you can be anonymous. You can rest assured that no third party can access or steal your payment information because your data is encrypted as long as you’re connected to a VPN server.

There are a lot of shady sites out there and it may be hard to pinpoint which is which. By using a VPN you don’t have to worry about getting into the wrong website and risk exposing sensitive data. You can even gain access to shops that are not available to you due to regional blocks, depending on where you live. You are also free to choose which payment system you prefer when purchasing online. Using a good VPN is important to secure sensitive data like bank details and credit card information.  

Learn how to detect fake e-shopping websites

With online shopping becoming such an integral part of everyday life, you should be careful how you use your bank and credit card information online.

Scammers usually take advantage of the fact that users prefer quick and easy online transactions to get what they want. The unfortunate truth is that it works because we want results any way we can get them. That said, it’s fairly easy to spot a fake e-shopping website if you just take some time to investigate. Here’s a few things you can look for to determine if a website is a legitimate shop or a scam:

  • Suspicious domain names: Always check the URL you’re buying from, legitimate stores have clear URLs matching their brand like amazon.com or ebay.com. A URL that says amricanairlines-discount.com should definitely raise some red flags, in fact all the flags, it’s a scam! You can use Google’s Transparency Report tool to check if a website is safe.
  • Generic website design and spelling mistakes: Fake shopping websites usually have poorly designed, generic looking pages. You’ll also find spelling mistakes or missing content.
  • Unrealistic discounts: Don’t fall for the famous ridiculous sale scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check the price of the item you want to buy in multiple stores before making a purchase.
  • Visit HTTPS websites only: HTTPS is a secure internet protocol, you should only shop from websites with https URLs like https://www.amazon.com/.
  • Bad reviews: Always check google reviews and other sources as well, you’ll easily spot a scam site if it has a bunch of similar bad reviews.

Avoid adware websites

A great example of websites that contain adware are illegal movie streaming and cracked video games websites. Avoid visiting such websites at all costs, just support the developers and artists and buy your digital products directly from them. Instead of watching an illegal stream of Godzilla vs. Kong, get an HBO Max subscription and save yourself the trouble. Don’t worry if you don’t live in the US, you can unblock HBO Max with a VPN. The same rule applies to all streaming services and video games, always get it from the source.

Check credit card statements regularly 

Always view your electronic statements and keep track of the changes made to your account. Look for any fraudulent charges and call your bank when you notice any purchases you do not remember making. Make sure that you address the matter quickly in order to avoid any more problems in the future. 

This of course is not a preventive measure, but rather a reactive one. Hackers usually try to steal money in small portions so that victims remain oblivious to the fact. It’s crucial that you pay attention to even the smallest transactions on your card statements.

Use complex passwords 

This is a no brainer for everyone. Using a strong password can help deter hackers from getting into your accounts. So, avoid using the name of your cat as your password and use an unexpected one. Better yet, use a random password generator to create complex passwords that are very difficult to crack with brute force attacks.

Brute force attacks are the most primitive cyber-attack weapons, yet they are still very effective. Primarily because users are lazy and use regular words as passwords, don’t do that!

Tips for safe online shopping – Conclusion

Shopping online is a great way to get the best product at the best price since you can compare and find valuable bargains. It is both practical and convenient. However, it is necessary to take precautionary measures when using the Internet in order to avoid exposing sensitive and payment information. Follow and take note of these tips to make sure you get the safest online shopping experience possible.  

About the Author

Raymond is the primary author for Anonymistic. He's a computer scientist with extensive experience in development and cyber-security. He's also a big Marvel fan and a competitive gamer.

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