Safe Holiday Shopping Guide
It’s the season for holiday online shopping. As you avoid the crowded malls and parking lots with the convenience of online shopping, we want to help keep your credit card and personal information safe. While most online stores do a good job of protecting their customers, it never hurts to exercise good online security practices. Here are five important safety tips that will help you maintain your privacy and security while shopping online:
Check your app
If you’re shopping online on a mobile device, ensure you have the correct app installed. There has been a surge in fake retail apps just in time for the holiday shopping season. According to the New York Times, “Hundreds of fake retail and product apps have popped up in Apple’s App Store in recent weeks.” The Google Play store has also been affected by fake shopping apps. A fake app has the potential to be malicious and entering your credit card information can lead to potential fraud.
To ensure you’re installing a legitimate one, check the publisher’s name in the app store, read the reviews (mainstream apps will have a high number of reviews), and look at the date it was published to the store. A recently published mobile app from an unknown publisher, without many reviews, should raise suspicions.
Protect your privacy
As many online stores are cluttered with advertisements, it may be a good idea to get an ad blocker. In addition to blocking ads and making websites look less cluttered, a good ad blocker also stops companies from tracking your online habits. Whether you simply window shop or purchase products online, the information is often recorded by tracking scripts and is used to deliver targeted advertising based on the products you look for. An ad blocker like Ad-Aware Ad Block stops these scripts from recording your habits.
Read the address
Just because the website address looks okay, don't assume you're on a legitimate site. Look in your browser's URL bar for signs that you may be on a phishing site:
The web address of a phishing site often looks correct but contains a misspelling of the company name with a character or symbol before or after the name, like Amazonn.com, e8ay.ca or paypa1.com.
The checkout page of a shopping site needs to be protected from online threats. This is the page where you enter your credit card information and approve purchases. There’s an easy way to tell if the checkout page of an online shopping site has a secure connection:
- If you’re using Google Chrome or Internet Explorer look for the padlock icon in the address bar.
- Ensure the address of the checkout page starts with https:// versus just http:// so your connection is secure for transmitting sensitive information like credit card numbers. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which information is transmitted between your browser and the website. The extra ‘S’ at the end stands for ‘Secure.’
Check the source
Don’t let the promise of deals and the stress of last-minute shopping force you to compromise your secure browsing habits. If you find a great deal on an unfamiliar online shopping site, research the site and read user reviews first. Look around the website: misspelled words, broken links, and missing information on an official merchant website may be the sign of a phishing site. Do your homework and don’t be rushed into making a purchase by the threat of a “limited supply” warning. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re purchasing a specialty item at a small or unknown online retailer, perform additional searches to verify their legitimacy. Reputable online retailers should readily list information about themselves, including a location and customer service contact number. You can also perform additional searches to check if there are reports of wrongdoing on the part of the business. For example, before making a purchase from a retailer named “Flowers By Irene,” you can enter “Flowers By Irene reviews” or “Flowers by Irene scam” into a search engine.
Avoid malicious ads
In the last two years, online advertising has been used to infect internet users with malware. The people targeted did nothing more than browse their favorite news site or search engine and one of the ads on those sites attempted to target their computer. Malvertising refers to malicious advertising, online ads used to attack users. These online ads are secretly placed on legitimate websites through advertising networks and redirect users to hacker-controlled sites. Since anyone can purchase online advertising from these networks, hackers buy ad space using fake credentials then use the advertisements to target innocent users. Having an ad blocker reduces your chances of being targeted by malvertising.
Online shopping has many upsides: it’s convenient enough to do from anywhere, you have a wider selection of products, and there are more deals for bargain hunters. While most online merchants do a good job of protecting their customers, you still need to take precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones. From all of us at Lavasoft, we wish you a happy holiday shopping season.