Tips for Shopping Safely Online

Online shopping is quick and convenient, but could compromise your financial or personal information if you fail to take a few precautions.  Here are some timely tips for shopping safely online.

When heading to the online marketplace, only shop at sites you trust.  When you’re ready to buy, ensure that the site’s checkout pages are secure:  look for “https://” at the beginning of the URL in the address field of your browser.  That “s” is important, and indicates that the site is encrypting your account information.  Most modern browsers also put a padlock-shaped icon somewhere in or near the address field as a visual cue that you are in a secure area.

Pay with a credit card, rather than debit, as credit cards offer better protections against unauthorized use.  Additionally, many credit card companies can supply you with single-use card numbers for online purchases.  

Only provide retailers with the bare minimum amount of information needed to process the sale.  No retail site should ever need your social security number, mother’s maiden name, or other such personal information.

If a site asks you to set up a user account prior to checkout, choose a password that is different than what you use for your online banking, email, or other accounts.  Definitely do not use the same password you use on the email account you are registering with!

Use wireless networks with care.  Open, public Wi-Fi networks have limited security features, and information passing across them can be easily intercepted.  If you need to use wireless for your online shopping, try connecting through a virtual private network (VPN).  (For more information about connecting to USC’s VPN, check out the ITS VPN overview page.)

Finally, keep your computer and web browsers up to date with the latest security patches and updates.  This will help protect your computer and other devices from known issues that could allow hackers to intercept your information.

For more information about shopping securely online, the National Cyber Security Alliance has posted a list of helpful tips.