How Can Consumers Stay Safe When Shopping Online?

As headlines keep reminding us of the latest hacker attacks and data breach incidents, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers that lie ahead in the digital age. Attack vectors like ransomware – think WannaCry and NotPetya – and phishing scam campaigns that keep popping up and manipulate their victims by using prestigious brand names as a smokescreen, have shown us that everyone is on the radar of hackers.

It is not just big companies or government agencies; the average consumer can be at any time hit by hackers, especially during an online activity that involves exchanging funds or using banking details. This includes web banking, booking services online, and – of course – e-commerce. In an era where more hackers roam the world wide web than ever before, how can consumers stay safe when shopping online?

Online shopping is on the rise

E-commerce is continually growing in recent years, aided by an increasing internet penetration rate as well as an immense rise in mobile web-connected devices, especially smartphones, that give shoppers the opportunity to make purchases on the go. Amazon has been spearheading the online retail industry across the US, Europe, India and beyond, and the company’s success has been a crucial factor in online shopping becoming so mainstream. It is also indicative of the upward trend of the market: as Statista reports, 82% of adult consumers in Austria and Germany and 81% in Italy have stated that they have bought something on Amazon in the past 12 months. The figure climbs to 86% when it comes to the UK and the US and reaches a staggering 88% in India. In Canada and France, 72% of respondents say the same, while Spain at 69% and China at 23% complete the top 10. Most of these users pay with debit and credit cards. According to research, 48% of consumers prefer to use a credit card when shopping on the internet, while 44% of respondents stated that they prefer using debit cards as a payment type in general, with 33% opting for credit cards and only 12% preferring cash. Overall, there are 1.5 billion credit cards in the US, with 67% of people owning one.

This trend makes a strong case for finding a data protection solution that will help meet PCI DSS compliance requirements. Short for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, PCI DSS is a set of 11 high-level requirements that companies which process debit and credit card transactions must comply with in order to receive certification. These requirements are meant to increase cybersecurity across databases, files, and the web and ensure that clients can trust the certified enterprise with their payment details.

Among others, companies are required to establish a process in order to uncover vulnerabilities with regard to cybersecurity, as well as monitor all activity when it comes to accessing cardholder data. They also mandate that companies restrict access to this data only to specific employees on a need-to-know basis. Coupled with the implementation of the right security tools, like SSL certificates or data masking, PCI DSS can boost the security of online card transactions. One of the most important tips for staying safe when shopping online is to always check whether the seller complies with security standards like PCI DSS – and always choose reputable online retailers that truly invest in cybersecurity.

How to avoid phishing attempts

Phishing scams are just the latest successful attack technique, which dupes consumers into inadvertently disclosing sensitive information like banking and payment data. In most cases, attackers pose as a third party that the victim knows and trusts – like your bank or a well-known brand. If you receive an unsolicited email from an e-shop you are registered in, asking you to update your payment details by sending over your credit or debit card data again, beware.

A trusted provider would never request sensitive details in a manner that does not guarantee that they will be transmitted and stored safely – so that email is most probably a phishing attempt. This is hardly unique to online shopping: recently Netflix users were targeted by a similar campaign, while every year during tax season many taxpayers are bound to get phishing messages supposedly from the tax authorities requesting critical information.

Many online scams will also attempt to lure people in by offering discounts and promotions that are too good to be true. Fake ads that claim to provide unique offers are regularly posted on social media like Facebook – but when users click on them, they are redirected to a fake site that will steal their data.

In an effort to catch consumers off guard and make sure they are too emotional to think clearly, these scam promotions are often advertised as countdown offers. This effectively means that online shoppers won’t go to the trouble of scrutinizing the target site or pay attention to the little details that reveal the offer to be malicious since they are feeling pressured to act quickly and claim the alleged incredible discount. If an offer sounds too good, then it probably isn’t true – and consumers should also check whether a website they do not know is legitimate or not before proceeding with a purchase.

As e-commerce is set to grow even more in 2019, adhering to a few online security tips can go a long way towards guaranteeing a safe online shopping experience.

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