At the risk of lowering my man-cred (what little I have), I have to admit, I love to shop online. There’s something deeply satisfying about browsing endless virtual aisles in search of the best deal or coolest product, then getting that item delivered to my front door – all without ever changing out of my pajamas (or leaving the house, which perfectly suits my hermit lifestyle).
Just one problem: Shopping online is an inherently dangerous activity, with so much personal information flowing from your computer to the vast, untamed Internet wilderness. Or at least that’s what it feels like, especially as you encounter more and more stories of stolen company databases, personal identity theft, and other hacker incursions.
So what’s the alternative? Must you give up your click-to-buy ways and return to brick-and-mortar stores? Is there no way to safeguard your personal data while still enjoying the benefits of pajama-friendly shopping?
Good news: You don’t have to get dressed. Online shopping can be a totally safe experience, provided you exercise a little common sense and follow these four tips:
Use a Disposable Credit Card Number:
To buy something online, you need a credit card, right? Right. And it has to be the same card that’s tied to your account, right? Not necessarily.
See, some banks will generate a “disposable” or “masked” credit card number, one that’s tied to your account but disappears after a single use. That way, even if the online store keeps that card number on file, hackers can’t use it to go on a spending spree. This may require a couple extra steps each time you shop online, but it’s an almost bulletproof insurance policy against card hacking.
If your bank doesn’t offer this option, consider a third-party service like Abine Blur Premium. It offers not only masked credit-card numbers, but also masked e-mail addresses and a password manager.
Which brings us to our next tip.
Mix Up Your Passwords:
You may have created a strong, relatively hack-proof password, but if you use it at every online store, that’s no good. One database breach and now hackers can use that stolen password to run amok wherever you shop.
The solution: use a different strong, hack-proof password everywhere you shop. Easier said than done? Not if you employ a password manager. The aforementioned Abine Blur Premium does a fine job, but there are plenty of other good options to choose from. I’m partial to both Dashlane and Norton Identity Safe, the latter a free component of Norton Internet Security.
Keep a Close Eye on Card Activity:
Although an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, even the most careful online shopper can’t prevent every possible hack. That’s why it’s crucial to keep an eye on your bank and credit-card activity, which you can do easily thanks to free mobile apps like Mint. Every day, just take a quick glance at your charges. If there’s something you don’t recognize, you can alert your bank immediately – and hopefully prevent subsequent unauthorized charges.
There’s another way to use your smartphone to your advantage: If you have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, you can link one or more of your credit cards to Apple Pay. Even if you don’t use the phone itself to make purchases, you’ll get a notification whenever there’s a credit-card transaction – a fast and effective way to monitor activity and spot fraudulent activity.
Keep hackers away from your PC:
Let’s not overlook old-school safety methods: If your PC gets infiltrated by viruses, spyware, keyloggers, or other threats, all your personal data is at risk. That’s why Internet Protection is essential, ideally in the form of antivirus security software.
BullGuard, Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton, Trend Micro, and other companies offer robust, affordable antivirus security, in some cases with extra features like parental controls and password management. Not sure which one to choose? You can find detailed reviews at Top10AntiVirusSoftware.com.
And that’s everything you need to know about safe online shopping! And, remember, you don’t have to wear pajamas – but at least put on a bathrobe.