Is online shopping making me vulnerable to identity theft?

As long as you are making purchases from trustworthy merchants, online shopping is no more risky to your identity than shopping at your local department store. But before you fill up your online shopping cart, here are five ways to better protect your identity online:

1. Shop with reputable merchants. If you are not sure if a merchant is trustworthy, you can review its sales ratings. While it is safest to shop only with merchants that you know and trust, a business with thousands of transactions and a 99% or higher seller rating is likely safe.

2. Look for the lock image on the check out screen. Reputable online merchants will direct you to a secure or encrypted web page to check out. This ensures that only the merchant can view your payment information. To confirm that you are on a secure site, look for the closed padlock image in your browser, and a web address that starts with “https://” (instead of “http://”).

3. Don’t make purchases over public wifi networks. WiFi hotspots are often not secure. If you send personal information through websites or mobile apps, other users on the network can potentially see what you send.  This can make you vulnerable to hackers stealing your personal information and/or log in credentials. When you need to send personal information over the Internet, make sure you are using a secure wireless network (one that requires a WPA or WPA2 password) or your wireless carrier’s data network.

4. Don’t store card information out of convenience. If a hacker has stolen your log in information, you don’t want to give them your credit card information as well. While it is less convenient, it is safer to enter your credit card information each time you make a purchase.

5. Create strong passwords for all your devices and accounts, and don’t use the same password for multiple websites. The Federal Trade Commission recommends being creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as a password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to go to France” could become IW2g2F.

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Cari Lingle

Cari Lingle is an Accredited Financial Counselor for Foresters Everyday Money, providing unbiased financial coaching and education with the goal of improving the financial well being of Foresters Members. Supported by her background in both financial coaching and financial analysis, Cari writes about all aspects of personal finance including credit, debt, basic budgeting and current industry trends.