What’s the Safest Way to Shop Online?

Security & Privacy, Tips & Tricks

The biggest shopping day of the year has already passed — and it wasn’t Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Singles’ Day in China on November 11 will likely break the one day shopping record with 158 billion yuan or $24 billion in sales, quadrupling the yield of last year’s Black Friday take. And one retailer — Alibaba — raked in most of those sales. Singles’ Day was first marked by the retailer in 2009, 4 years after marketers came up with Cyber Monday as the digital cousin of the Black Friday, which has been the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. since the 1950s.

Regardless of where you are or what you’re celebrating, you’re bound to be doing a lot more shopping during the rest of 2017 — and retailers will be doing the best to make sure you do.

So now is the time to think about your online safety.

“You want to avoid distractions so you’re less likely to make mistakes,” Sean Sullivan, F-Secure’s Security Advisor, told me.

The safest way to focus and avoid online threats is to shop directly through a retailer’s app on a secured connection, he noted.

But not all consumers have this option. So the next best thing is to take basic security precautions — including running updated system and security software, such as F-Secure TOTAL — and then setting up a “business browser” that you use exclusively for shopping and other financial transactions.

“If you use Chrome for surfing online and using social media, you could install Firefox, for instance,” he said. Then avoid adding plug-ins and only use that browser when you’re focused on activities that involve money. When you’re done with the session, erase your browsing history.

You can use this same strategy on your smartphone and tablet.

Holiday season also floods your email box with offers and discounts. Sean recommends only clicking on links in those messages after you’ve previewed the links by hovering over them and seeing where they send you on the bottom of your browser. If you aren’t sure about the link, go to your business browser and type in the site directly to make sure you’re not being scammed. Or better yet, just use plain text emails. You should also bookmark your favorite retailers to reduce the risk of ending up on a scam site.

These steps should keep you secure as more and more retailers build direct connections for their customers in the future.

If you want to see what the near future of online shopping will look like, Sean recommends you look to China — especially since the Singles’ Day tradition is spreading around the world, including to Finland.

Alibaba first captured the Singles’ Days market with a creative solution for a consumers lacking credit cards — escrow accounts. Now customers in Asia are doing more and more shopping by communicating directly with chat bots and Alibaba is doing its best to connect online shopping and traditional retailers by working with 600,000 convenience stores where customers can pick up their orders or find featured products.

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