When you hear the words “shop smart,” you might initially think we’re talking about saving money or not spending too much. With online shopping, “shop smart” has a different meaning.
Don’t get scammed or hacked.
With many retailers already offering Black Friday type sales, it’s enticing to get started early with holiday shopping, but before you get too far into spending your money, take a few steps to protect yourself online.
Too many people shop and spend money online using free public WiFi. Almost every restaurant and coffee shop offers free WiFi now. It’s convenient but unsecured.
Take a look around the next time you’re connected to a public WiFi network and count the number of people looking at their phone or laptop. There may be dozens of people connected to the same free and unsecured network. All it takes is for one person who knows what they’re doing to tap into your phone or laptop to see your information. It isn’t easy, but cybercriminals know all the tricks.
Here’s what to do instead of shopping on free WiFi networks: disconnect from the network and shop using your cellular provider’s network. It is secured.
If you’re using a laptop, disconnect from the free WiFi and connect to your phone’s personal hotspot. Most phone plans include them now. If you’ve never used it, open the Settings app and look for a cellular or personal hotspot. You’ll likely just have to slide a toggle over to turn it on and make it available for other people to connect to. To connect to the personal hotspot you’ll just need to search for available networks on the laptop and find the name of your phone. You’ll also need to enter the password that you find on your phone.
If you insist on shopping or browsing on free WiFi networks, it’s best to use a VPN or virtual private network. These software programs log you onto the internet using a fake IP address from another part of the country or the world.
There are many benefits of using a VPN, not the least of which is doing anything involving banking or credit cards. A VPN encrypts your computer so even if someone were to try and successfully hack into it, they’ll only see jumbled digits and no useful information.
There are many VPNs to choose from. Express VPN and Nord VPN are highly reviewed and respected. They do require a subscription that costs anywhere from $7/mo to $12/mo but will protect all of your computers and phones. Beware of free VPNs you find in the app stores and advertised online.
Do not use a debit card while shopping online. If you have one on file with Amazon, Walmart, eBay, or any other retailer’s website, remove it. Debit cards are connected directly to your bank account and can be emptied quickly by a cyber-criminal. Credit card companies protect your money and will notify you if there’s any suspicious activity. I also recommend using PayPal when you see it as an option for payment.