Shopping online has become the norm for the majority of Americans. Nowadays, anyone with a smartphone can easily buy anything they want at the tap of a button and find the package on their doorstep within hours. Reports of online shopping scams have increased right alongside online shopping during the pandemic.1
The Federal Trade Commission received 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020 (up 45 percent from 2019)! Being aware of the ways that online shopping can lead to identity theft — and knowing how to protect yourself in case anything happens — is crucial to protecting your identity.
The Connection Between Online Shopping and Identity Theft
According to the Rhode Island State Department of Public Safety, “Identity theft, or fraud, is a crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another individual’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. It usually results in the loss of personal data, such as passwords, user names, banking information, or credit card numbers.”
As such, any online shopping scam that compromises personal information such as your name, email address, mailing address, or credit card number could lead to identity theft.
While many online shopping sites use encryption tools to protect your data, there’s no foolproof way to protect your personal information since even well-respected companies can fall prey to data breaches.
Here are ways that online shopping exposes your personal information and can lead to identity theft.
3 Ways Online Shopping Can Expose Your Personal Information
Online Shopping on Unsecured Sites
As you look for deals online, it’s easy to come across sites that are unsecured (their urls start with “http” instead of “https” and don’t have a lock icon), potentially exposing you to more risk. It’s a good idea to confirm you are on a secure website before entering any personal information.
Sticking to sites like big name stores are your best bet for making sure your information is protected, but watch out for strange or incorrect website urls (for example, website urls that look like a well known company’s site but have a typo). Many hackers duplicate sites to make them “look” like they belong to a reputable company.
Online Shopping on Public Wi-Fi
While we’ve become accustomed to connecting to free Wi-Fi networks, you never really know who else is also connected to an unsecured network and what they may be able to see on your connected device.
Shopping online or entering personal information on any sites — such as signing in to your bank account — may not be private on an open network, so save your personal business for your secure home network, or use a Virtual Private Network or hotspot when you’re out and about to manage risk.
Using the Same Passwords Across Sites
Complicated passwords can help deter hackers from stealing your personal information, but make sure you are mixing it up and using a variety of passwords across sites. If your password is compromised in a data breach, you don’t want that password to work for your other online accounts, making it easier for fraudsters to access them. A password manager can create strong passwords and help you remember all of them, making your accounts and information harder to access.
6 Ways to Shop Online More Safely
While there’s no surefire way to protect yourself from fraud (especially with more and more companies falling prey to data breaches!), there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself:
- Ensure your computer or phone is up to date with the latest software. Software developers regularly release updates addressing vulnerabilities in their system. Set your phone or computer to install software updates automatically so your system always has the latest security patches and updates installed.
- Use a store’s mobile application instead of a website. Download the store’s mobile application to your phone and shop via the app to ensure you are on the correct site
- Navigate to websites directly instead of clicking on a link in an email. Hackers may send you emails with links to fake websites. Make sure you type the website url into your browser directly (or use the company’s mobile app!) instead of clicking an email link.
- Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Consider using a credit card when shopping online. These tend to have better fraud protection than debit cards, making it easier to recoup stolen funds.
- Consider using a one-time credit card number. Check whether your bank offers a one-time card number you can use for online shopping. If your transaction details fall into the wrong hands, the fraudsters will have the one-time use card number instead of your real credit card number.
- Set spending limits and alerts with your credit cards and bank. Many banks offer text or email alerts so you can be notified when a purchase is over a set dollar amount or they detect suspicious activity.
While it may seem like a lot of effort, it’s worth it to help you avoid identity theft. Keep shopping fun by following the steps above and share this information with friends and family so they can protect themselves too.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent all identity theft because of the many threats out there. That’s why it’s important to use a service like AAA Identity Champion to monitor your identity for signs of theft and, should the unthinkable happen, help you put your life back together. Identity Champion Basic is included with all AAA Memberships.2