Shopping online is so much more pleasant than going out to the mall. You don’t have to change out of your pajamas, don’t have to fight traffic, and don’t have to wrangle with other shoppers at the sale table. Be careful, though, or you might become a commodity for sale. Here are some tips to keep your online shopping worry-free.
Don’t Get Lazy
Many shopping sites invite you to set up an account so you won’t have to re-enter your payment information next time. It does seem convenient, but you’re much better off filling in the details each time. Otherwise, if your shopping site gets hacked like Zappos did, the bad guys will have all your personal detailsmaybe even your credit card number. You might expect the merchant would encrypt this sensitive data, or at least the credit card numbers. You might be wrong.
Clearly you have to give the merchant your address; otherwise they won’t know where to send the merchandise. But do leave any non-required fields blank. And if the order form asks for too-personal information like your SSN or bank account number, navigate away immediately. There’s no reason an honest e-tailer would need that information. While you’re at it, opt out of all communication other than what’s necessary to track and complete your order.
Skip Email Scams
I get email alerts from a number of online merchants about new items and new sales. Even for these expected alerts, I never click a link in the message. Rather, I navigate to the merchant’s website and view the new items there.
Email is intrinsically insecure. A fraudster can fake up a message that looks totally valid but directs you to a fake commerce site. They’re not going to ship you anything that you “buy” on the fake site. Worse, you’ve given them your credit card number along with your address and other personal information. Just get out of the habit of clicking links in email.
Don’t Get Phished
A phishing site mimics a legitimate shopping or commerce site, but when you log in you’ve given your credentials away to the scam’s perpetrator. If you refrain from clicking links in email messages you can avoid most phishing scams, though you may occasionally find a fraudster “typo-squatting” on a domain name that’s just a little off, like pcmga.com for pcmag.com.
For added protection, enable phishing protection in the browser. In Internet Explorer it’s called SmartScreen Filter. Firefox users should make sure “Block reported web forgeries” is checked. If you’re a Chrome fan, be sure “Enable phishing and malware protection” is turned on. Opera? Turn on “Enable Fraud Prevention.”
Many security suites include phishing protection among their collection of features, but the majority of them are less effective than IE alone. Unless a PCMag review has identified your particular suite as one with effective phishing protection, leave your browser’s antiphishing turned on.
Keep Your Virtual Cash Safe
When making a credit card purchase in person, there’s no way you’ll accidentally order one dozen gizmos when you wanted just one. You’ll notice, the merchant will notice, problem solved. There’s no such safety net online, so be very, very sure your order is correct and always print or save a copy for reference.
Debit cards don’t offer the same kind of purchase protection you get from credit cards; avoid using them for online purchases. Some credit card issuers offer a service that generates one-time card numbers for use in online shopping. The card number is good for only one transaction. The merchant never sees your actual card number, but the purchase shows up on your normal bill. Getting a one-off card number is a little more effort than just typing the number from your card, but making that effort could save you big-time headaches.
Cover Your Tracks
When you finish shopping online, shut down the browser. You don’t want to take the slightest chance that someone else could sit down at the computer and use the Back button to return to your transaction. Better still, wipe out all traces of recent browsing. In IE, Firefox, and Chrome, pressing Ctrl+Shift+Del brings up the trace-cleanup feature.
IE, Firefox, and Chrome all offer a mode that lets you surf without retaining any traces. IE calls it InPrivate browsing, Chrome calls it Incognito mode, and Firefox just calls it private browsing. If you remember to switch into this mode before starting your online shopping spree you won’t have to worry about cleaning up afterward.
Use Common Sense
Criminal coders write malware to make money. A drive-by download introduced by a poisoned banner ad could plant a credit-card stealing Trojan on your system. Don’t even consider shopping online unless you’ve installed a highly-rated antivirus program or, better yet, a full security suite. Be sure to keep your protection up to date, too.
Frequently malicious code exploits vulnerabilities in Windows, the browser, or third-party programs to plant its sneaky code on your PC. For safety, configure Windows Update to install all important updates automatically. Adobe add-ins like Reader and Flash Player have been hit quite a bit lately, so make sure all your add-ins stay up to date as well.
Keep these tips in mind, use your common sense, and you can enjoy the convenience of online shopping in safety.
Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2401648,00.asp