How to Shop Securely Online as Scams Quadruple in Lockdown

In these unprecedented times, we can all foresee a major reliance on online shopping. Shipping is fast, returns are easy, and it’s a lot safer. It’s also a lot more fun than trying to shop masked and sanitized.

But it’s crucial that you stay safe when shopping online this Cyber Monday, as official reports of online shopping fraud totals $21.4m and has affected thousands of victims since shops were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the convenience of online shopping is unparalleled, your security is not a given. But there’s no reason to fret if you know what dangers to look out for.

Follow these online shopping tips to stay safe this Cyber Monday:

Shop where you trust

As new online shops spring up every day, we’re flooded with ads to “Buy Now!” at “rock-bottom prices” with “free delivery”. But before you trust these online pop-up shops or Instagram boutiques, verify the following:

  • URL names: Look for spelling errors or strange characters added to the URL. For example, a fraudulent customer service email pretending to be from [email protected] might show as [email protected]

  • Phone numbers: Legitimate companies will have a phone number for customers to call. If you can see one on their website, try calling it to see who answers. If you can’t find a phone number, it might be a scam.

  • Addresses: A registered business will enlist an address online to protect consumers and show that they’re trading legitimately. UK-registered companies will appear on companieshouse.gov.uk. Many companies often specify their address on their website – with a little research you’ll soon learn to tell fraudsters from the real deal.

Of course, it’s better to stick to stores you know. But if you are tempted by social media boutiques and you must buy that Dyson gadget or high-rise swimsuit you saw for twice the price in-store last week, look for these red flags first:

  • DM for prices: No self-respecting business wastes time asking their customers to message them first for something so basic as the price. They most likely want to scope out who you are to try and charge you more, take your payment, and disappear without a trace.

  • Weird payment restrictions: No Mastercard or Visa payments allowed? Big red flag. If an online shop only takes payments through PayPal or some other less secure method, it could spell mischief because it’s a lot harder to trace and reclaim your money in case your order never turns up.

Most credit cards offer purchase protection — use it if you have concerns.

Beware of rock-bottom prices

Prices that are too good to be true usually are. No business can possibly afford to sell premium goods at less than 30% of the RRP unless, of course, it’s bait. Yes, that’s right. That 4K TV down to $199 advert is designed to lure you in with “deals of the century” in their “biggest sale ever”. If you happen to click the ad, two things could happen:

  1. You get infected: Hackers load adverts with malware. When clicked, they infect your device with a vicious virus or trojan, allowing the hacker to steal your files and passwords or crash your system and demand a ransom to reverse it.

  2. You get taken for a ride: You click the ad, and it takes you to a normal-looking site. You make a purchase, enter your card details, address, and phone number, and never receive a single thing. Now, a fraudster has your details and is free to commit all kinds of fraud in your name.

Know your consumer rights: what are you entitled to?

The number one cybercrime in 2019 was reportedly non-delivery of goods. If you’ve paid for something and it hasn’t materialized, don’t despair. As a consumer, you have certain rights and are entitled to take certain actions.

If you’ve ordered/paid for an item that has not arrived:

  1. Contact the seller and ask them to redeliver the item.

  2. If the item is late or has not arrived in the allotted time frame, you can cancel the order and ask the seller for a refund.

Watch out for email scams

There’s been a huge spike in online shopping recently, which also means more receipts and order confirmations emailed to us, making email an easy target for scammers. In a phishing scam, cybercriminals send their victims fake emails, pretending to be a legitimate company. If you’ve recently shopped online, watch out for emails asking you to verify your payment details or personal information – it could be a hacker trying to get your details.

If something seems fishy: Pay attention to the URL of the sender. For example, Paypal.com might be changed to Pay-Pal.com — a small detail that can easily be missed.

Report suspected phishing emails to [email protected] and phishing texts to SPAM (7726). Never reply to a suspicious email – always call or email the company directly.

Use a VPN

Make public Wi-Fi safe by using a VPN. Public Wi-Fi and hotspots often have an unencrypted connection making them a hotbed for hackers. A VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your online activity, making you invisible to hackers lurking nearby. This is especially important when you’re shopping online and sending payment information.

Keep strong passwords for all your accounts

E-commerce sites that store your credit card information are jackpots for hackers who want your credentials and hard-earned cash. But they won’t necessarily target your eBay or Amazon account directly — they’ll first strike you on Facebook.

Victims have lost more than $60,000 after being tricked on Facebook messenger. In one incident, a scammer hacked someone’s account and sent one of their relatives a message to “check out this link that lets you apply for a grant of up to $80,000”. The scammer then tried to get the victim to pay for releasing the funds to their account.

Use a password manager

None of your accounts are off bounds, as hackers find new and unexpected ways to catch you off guard. But if the thought of remembering ten nonsensical,12-character passwords makes your head spin, use a password manager instead.

NordPass is an easy-to-use password manager that saves and auto-fills your passwords, securing them with XChaCha20 encryption. Access your passwords from any device in a single click or with your fingerprint and secure your accounts for good.

Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
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