The beginning of the new decade kicked off to a challenging start for many Australians. Social distancing measures and lockdowns across the nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to shifts in consumer behaviour. In particular, there is an increase in online shopping, which was already going from strength to strength pre-COVID-19. Nielsen’s Homescan research revealed that in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, online grocery sales increased by 45% as many rushed to stock up on goods. Australian Amazon sales alone more than doubled in 2019 and is predicted to reach a value of $23bn by 2029.
But online shopping comes with risks, especially as cybercrime increases in sophistication. Online thieves are on the prowl looking for identities to steal and opportunities to commit fraud – and unfortunately e-commerce sites are some of the most vulnerable targets.
Retailers are stepping in to bolster their defences, but there are many things we as individuals can do to in the interim to stay safe online in 2020, whether you’re purchasing items online for personal or work use.
Only shop on secure websites
Before making an online purchase, make sure the retailer’s website is secure – otherwise you’re putting yourself or your company at risk as criminals can access your data with greater ease.
To find out whether a site is secure, check to see if the URL starts with “https://” instead of “http://” as the latter indicates an unsecured connection. You can also look for a small padlock icon in the address bar. Your web browser may even point out that the site you’re using isn’t secure. If that’s the case, shop elsewhere.
Use credit cards, not debit cards to shop online
Use of credit cards offers protection from fraudulent transactions. Many credit card issuers provide zero liability protection, meaning you’re not held responsible when there is unauthorised use of your credit card details to make (fraudulent) purchases.
If someone makes a purchase you didn’t authorise on your debit card however, the money is taken immediately from your bank account via the debit card and it can take several days for it to be reimbursed.
Your best bet is to shop with a credit card that offers protection against fraudulent transactions, then check with your finance institution about when to pay off any charges to avoid carrying a balance and negatively impacting your credit score.
Don’t shop on a public wi-fi network
Make sure any shopping you do is on a secure wi-fi network such as at home. It may be tempting to shop online whilst having some time in a public space, but making sensitive transactions on a public wi-fi network puts you at risk. Thieves can more easily intercept any data, including credit card numbers and passwords, on a public network.
You can set up a virtual private network, or VPN, on your laptop or phone, which encrypts your connection while you’re on a public network. This is especially important if you work in shared workspaces and you may not have your own dedicated wi-fi network, as it less likely your data will be compromised.
Also, avoid using a public computer when lock down restrictions lift in case spyware or malware have already compromised the device.
Make your passwords unique and secure
If unauthorised users gain access to your account passwords, they can steal your payment information or order items with your account and leave you footing the bill.
Make sure you create secure passwords, such as a string of a few unrelated words separated by spaces, to minimise your risk. Avoid using the same password across different accounts; if one is hacked, multiple accounts will be vulnerable. Download a password manager like LastPass or 1Password to keep track of and generate secure passwords when prompted.
Update software on your computer and mobile device
Software updates can seem tedious, but if you get an alert to update your operating system or browser, do so immediately. Taking a few minutes to do so can spare you the arduous time spent recovering stolen personal information. These updates are often released to protect consumers from new security risks. They can also help protect your data by reinforcing or upgrading your computer or phone’s security features.
Watch out for online scams
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch has received over a thousand COVID-19-related scam reports. There are many different types of online scams and it pays to be familiar with them and the steps you can take to protect yourself. Beware of phishing scams for example, in which fraudsters use the information they know about you, such as your name or hometown, to encourage you to divulge other personal data through email.
Scammers do this by embedding hyperlinks into emails or text messages that direct you to sites that collect your personal information or install malware onto your computer or phone.
Don’t click on text or email links from a source you don’t know, especially if they’re asking you to give up personal or company information. There are several variations of phishing scams, including spear phishing, angler phishing and smishing. Use caution when asked to enter any personal or company information online or via text.
Monitor your credit and identity
Regularly check your credit report to make sure no one has created new credit accounts in your name or has run up balances on your credit cards.
If you’re concerned your personal information has fallen into the wrong hands, you can place a ban on your credit report. A ban prevents organisations from accessing your credit report, advising them there is a ban in place. This ensures the organisation is alerted to the fraud risk and takes the extra steps required to verify your identity. A ban initially lasts for 21 days which you can easily request to be extended if required.
By staying vigilant while shopping online you can do your best to prevent the worst from happening, and keep your data and identity safe.
By Karine Smyth, Head of ID & Fraud, Experian A/NZ