Online Shopping Mistakes

5 Common Security Mistakes People Make When Shopping Online And How To Avoid Them

The holiday shopping season is here and local businesses across Vermont and New Hampshire are ready to help with all of your seasonal needs. When residents support small businesses and local stores, the whole community benefits. As in years past, more people will do some or all of their gift buying online. This is a wonderful convenience–no longer do you have to take a day off from work or brave weekend crowds at the mall in order to buy presents for friends and family. But e-commerce also comes with risks, most importantly the theft of your sensitive personal and financial data. So before you open up your web browser to look for items on your holiday shopping list, learn about these five common security mistakes and what you can do to protect yourself while shopping online.

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1.  Using public wifi to shop online

Before you begin your online shopping, look around. Where are you? If the answer is “somewhere with public wifi” like a coffee shop or the mall, it’s better to wait until you get home. Although free wifi is ubiquitous in restaurants, stores, and libraries, it’s not the safest way to surf the Internet, especially when logins and credit card information are involved. Sensitive data can easily be captured through public wifi and hackers may even create a “bogus” network with a name that resembles the place where you’re trying to get online. If you simply must check your bank account balance or make a purchase while you’re out and about, cyber security experts recommend using your cellular data network instead of public wifi. It’s also important to keep all of your devices and software up-to-date for the latest security measures.

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2.  Comparison shopping through Google

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, retailers of all sizes try to dazzle shoppers with ever-changing sales and promotions. Before you commit to buying anything, you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal. While this is a good way to save money, you need to be careful about how you do your price checking. Searching Google for the object in question will return sponsored and organic results. It can be hard to tell authentic and safe links from those created by cyber criminals through “SEO poisoning.” Poisoned links are usually created for trending topics such as a celebrity news story or, at this time of year, a hot toy or other gift item. Instead of taking you to the page or video they promise, clicking on a poisoned link will prompt your computer to download malware.

How can you browse smarter? It may be slightly more labor intensive, but cyber security experts recommend visiting retailers’ websites directly by typing the web address into your browser instead of following a link from Google or elsewhere. Search for the product you want to price check in each site. Doing it this way also provides an overview of each retailer’s promotions, such as free shipping, on top of the individual item price.

Shopping through social media is a whole other animal. Check out our previous post on protecting your social media accounts from hackers for tips on avoiding fake links and other common hazards. Before you enter payment information, look for the lock symbol in your browser’s address bar and/or for “https” in front of the address. These are reassuring signs that your transaction will be encrypted and secure.

Sometimes the hunt for a good deal can be so time-consuming and tiring it’s not worth the relatively minor amount of savings. Consider setting aside your devices and visiting local retailers for friendly in-person service and expert recommendations. Don’t know what to buy for the children in your life? Go to Once Upon A Time Toys in Stowe, for example. This kind of family-run store with decades of experience can help you find the perfect gift. Not only will your shopping experience be more pleasant (can anyone really be unhappy in a toy store?), you can feel good about supporting the businesses in your community.

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3. Using the same password for multiple sites

We bet you’ve heard this one before. Using the same login information for every site you visit is like giving a hacker one key that opens your house, starts your car, and unlocks your bank vault. Create a different password for each of your online accounts so that if one is stolen, the damage will be contained. Sure, this can be a hassle, which is why many people don’t do it in spite of expert advice. But in addition to old-fashioned pen and paper, there are many ways to conveniently manage your passwords online. Your web browser or antivirus software, for example, may offer password creation and storage. If not, there are plenty of password management services to choose from.

What does a strong password consist of?

  • More than ten total characters
  • Upper case letters
  • Lower case letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters

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4. Saving payment information

How many retailers have you saved your payment information with? Even one may be too many. If the company experiences a data breach, cyber criminals could end up with your credit or debit card numbers. As with logins and Google browsing, doing the most convenient thing could be costly in the end if your personal data becomes compromised. Whenever possible, check out as a guest instead of creating an account and don’t save your credit card information. Having to enter payment information every time you shop also protects you from impulse or accidental purchases. By the time you find your physical card and enter the number and billing address, you’ll be certain you want to make this purchase.

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5. Paying with a debit card or multiple credit cards

Many people use more than one type of credit or debit card for everyday purchases and expenses. However, if a cyber criminal obtains the information for more than one of your cards, you could be temporarily left without any payment methods except cash. That’s why it’s better to designate just one card for your holiday shopping. There are protections for both credit and debit cards–check with your bank for the details of your particular card. For example, Union Bank’s MasterCard Enhanced Debit Card offers zero liability for fraudulent transactions.

Don’t want to use a credit or debit card for online shopping? Consider using PayPal, Apple Pay, or putting money on a gift card in order to pay for online purchases without making your bank account vulnerable to theft.

Union Bank Helps You Prevent Fraud

Happy and safe online shopping!

As your community bank, we care about what happens to you. Union Bank wishes all of our customers and community members a safe and happy holiday season. To learn more about fraud prevention and protection, visit our Security page. And remember that Union Bank and other legitimate companies will never ask for passwords, bank account numbers, or other sensitive data via phone, email, or other communication methods. If you see something fishy or suspect you may be a victim of identity theft or fraud, contact us immediately.