Shopping safely online during a pandemic

As the holiday season approaches, millions of consumers are considering a variety of options for shopping during these unprecedented times.

The significant impact of COVID-19 in 2020 has pushed shoppers to rely on online modes of purchasing goods in hopes of avoiding exposure to the virus. Luckily, the rapid development of digital consumerism in the 21st century has made online shopping an easy, convenient and efficient way for people to purchase and move goods around.

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission reports scammers are out in force, especially on social media. Reported losses reached record highs, climbing to nearly $117 million in just the first six months this year.

It’s important to take the steps to protect yourself when shopping online. While it’s convenient to make purchases at your fingertips, it’s also important to think before you click. Here are some tips to help you this holiday season:

  • Understand the risks of using various payment types. Credit cards are a much safer option than debit cards because they contain no links to consumer’s funds. Credit cards also offer more consumer protections by the cards’ issuers. Additionally, payments made by credit cards typically offer the consumer the ability to dispute charges if there are problems with the purchase. Third party payment systems, such as PayPal, are a smart option as they prevent online sources from viewing consumers’ bank details.
  • Consistently check your bank statements. Questionable transactions may be a sign that of unauthorized activity. Stay informed by enabling email and/or text message notifications to send alerts each time a transaction is made.
  • Do your research before making purchases. Shopping should occur on well-established, credible sites with plenty of information on the products you’re interested in purchasing. Refrain from visiting suspicious-looking web pages as they may be fake e-commerce sites controlled by cybercriminals. Additionally, look for reviews of the product(s) to ensure they are genuine.
  • Be wary of advertised links or pop-up links and keep an eye out for viruses and spyware. Viruses are dangerous computer programs that can alter other programs by replicating itself and entering its own code. They give cybercriminals the ability to access the affected device and commit harmful acts such as destroying data and damaging software systems. Spyware is a type of dangerous software that allows cybercriminals to acquire important information from another individual’s device. Spyware can threaten the security of devices and could access private information.
  • Regularly update your device’s security software. You can effectively defend your device against viruses and online threats by ensuring you are using the latest operating systems, browsers and security systems.
  • Use unique login information when creating accounts. Any passwords created on sites should be a minimum of eight characters or longer (>12 characters is even better) and contain a distinct combination of numbers, letters and symbols. Do NOT use the same password on multiple sites.
  • Protect your email. Be wary of messages from unfamiliar sources that encourage a quick response – this could be a sign of a malicious email. Many cybercriminals practice phishing in attempts to acquire personal information and/or spread viruses to your device. Additionally, consider cleansing your inbox of spam by turning on filters, blocking suspicious senders, and reporting unsolicited emails.

While these suggestions are important to remember when browsing online, there are many additional ways to ensure you have a positive and protected shopping experience. Check out the National Cyber Security Alliance’s website for further tips on online shopping safety.

By Emily Klos, TDS Communications Intern

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