10 Cybersecurity Tips for Online Shopping

Shop safe on Black Friday

The Black Friday deals are already flowing, and we want to make sure you shop safely! On top of the tips in this article, find out if your financial institution issues "temporary numbers" for debit and credit cards that make it nearly impossible for your number to get stolen during this busy shopping season.

And check out our best Black Friday deals on everything to make your family and home safer heading into 2023.

Thankfully, the era of online shopping makes getting the perfect gift a whole lot easier. But before you embark on an online shopping spree, make sure you’re not leaving yourself at risk.

You may not have to worry about pickpockets in cyberspace, but there are still plenty of reasons to safeguard your personal and financial information. Here are 10 savvy online shopping tips to help you keep your information out of the hands of people who are most definitely on the naughty list.

Stay Safe! Sign up for SafeWise's weekly newsletter.

Get updates on the latest safety news, product releases, and deals.

By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

1. Skip the debit card

When shopping online it’s best to stick to credit cards or payment services like Paypal. Because debit cards are linked to your bank account, you’re at much higher risk if someone is able to hack your information. Credit cards offer more protection and less liability if a card number gets stolen. This is one time when it pays to put it on plastic.

Our advisory group member and cybersecurity expert Pete Canavan agrees. For speedy refunds in case something does go wrong, he recommends sticking to payment services and credit cards.

"When a fraudulent site or transaction is found, credit card companies will typically immediately reverse the charge and conduct an investigation," he says. "If you use your debit card and there is a problem, your bank may not give you the money back until after an investigation is conducted, which could take weeks or months."

2. Shop secure sites only

Before entering any personal or financial information, make sure you verify that the site you are on is legitimate and secure. The easiest way to tell is to look for “https” at the beginning of a site’s address. If you don’t see the “s” at the end of “http,” then the site is not encrypted and your data will not be secure. All legitimate shopping sites will have the “s” for your protection.

3. Update your software

Best antivirus software

Updating your software is one of the easiest things you can do to protect your information, but many people put it off. Software updates are often released to help improve security and fight new attacks that are being developed constantly. It may seem inconvenient to have to wait for your computer (or your smartphone) to go through updates and restart, but the protective benefits are well worth it. Next time you see an alert to update your software, do it.

4. Outsmart email scams

The holidays are a great time for email scammers to send out viruses and malware in the guise of a gift or special offer. Don’t open emails from someone you don’t know or a site you haven’t visited. Another way the bad guys try to get you is with phony messages from your bank or other financial institution saying there is an alert or problem with your account. Always call the bank directly to verify any potential problems and never enter your account information in response to an email like this.

Watch out for product scams, too

Unfortunately, a slew of mysterious brands are popping up all over our favorite online shopping spots and social media. It can be hard to tell the fakes from the real deal. Here are some tips to help you spot a product scam:

  • Read customer reviews. Look for too many super-positive reviews and repeated language or phrases.
  • Scrutinize photos. See if you can find the origin of the photo. If it's a stock image, beware.
  • Get help. One of our staff experts uses Fakespot to help find imposter companies.

5. Don’t click on links

In addition to sneaky attacks in emails, beware of links to deals that are too good to be true on social networking sites. Look out for unbelievable offers and holiday gifts and bonuses. If you’re really tempted by an offer, do some research or find out if anyone else has tried to take advantage of the deal before clicking.

6. Beef up your passwords

Best password manager

There’s a reason this piece of advice may sound like a broken record — it’s really important. Secure, unique passwords are your best gatekeepers when it comes to keeping your private information private. If you use the same password for multiple sites, take the time to change them up. If you want to be virtually hack-proof, use a password manager to help you generate and keep track of the types of long, complicated passwords that are not worth a hacker’s time to crack.

Light Bulb
Use a password phrase

Password phrases are becoming the top recommendation to protect your accounts. A phrase is easier for you to remember and it's more complex, which makes it harder for a hacker to guess. Just make sure to follow all the other password best practices—and don't use a common phrase or saying that could be easily guessed. 

7. Never give more info than needed

Most websites you visit or shop on will ask you for information to complete your purchase or start a wish list. Give them only the information they require you to provide. If a complete address or phone number is optional, then skip those fields. The more info you put out there, the more accessible you are to a bad guy. And before committing your information to a site, take the time to read their privacy policy and find out exactly where and how your information will be shared.

8. Don’t go public

Free hotspots are like manna from heaven when you’re out and about, but hackers like them even more than you do. Because public networks aren’t secured, any information you enter on a public network is ripe for the picking. Don’t log in to banking sites or payment sites like Paypal on a public network — and make sure that you are logged out of such sites on mobile devices before connecting to a public network.

9. Be smart about shopping apps

Apps make everything more convenient, including stealing your private information. Only download shopping apps from a reliable source like the Apple App Store or Google Play. Pay attention to the permissions that the app asks for. If you see something that doesn’t make sense, like access to your contacts, make sure you don’t allow the app access to it. Checking out the comments and reviews of an app before downloading is another way to identify suspicious activity.

10. Put devices on lockdown

One of the perks of online shopping is that you can do it from anywhere and use any device. Make sure every device that you shop from has security software in place. Always use a passcode to access your tablet or smartphone, and log off your computer or lock the screen when you walk away from it. After accessing a shopping or banking site, be sure to completely log out of the site before exiting, and don’t let your computer or device remember your usernames, passwords, or credit card information.

Light Bulb
Use a VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) basically put your internet connection in stealth mode. If you have to shop on your phone or over a public network, using a VPN is your best protection from hackers. See our top VPN picks and start protecting your transactions now. 

A stolen identity or wiped-out bank account aren't the kinds of surprises you want. Make sure you have only nice surprises this holiday season by putting these smart online shopping tips to work. 

Related articles on SafeWise

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

Recent Articles

Neighbourhood homes in the United Kingdom
The Best Home Alarm Systems in the UK
Find the right alarm system to protect your UK home. SafeWise recommends security systems for...
Mother looking at security system app with family
The Best Home Security System Apps
Home security apps help you protect your home when you’re not there by letting you...
Life Alert Alternatives
If you like the idea of Life Alert but can’t afford its high monthly fees,...
senior couple hiking
Most Affordable Medical Alert Systems
Medical alert systems can save lives, but how much do they cost? We compared the...