Online shopping is convenient and easy--so easy that many consumers let their guard down and become the target of cyber scammers. The FBI reports that online shoppers lost $337 million to fraudulent online retailers in 2021.
One common scam is fake online stores. Consumers who made purchases from these phony sites either never receive their purchase, receive something completely different than what was advertised, or discover--after the fact--that they were overcharged.
"By following a few guiding principles, such as checking your devices, shopping from trusted sources, using safe purchasing methods, and following basic cyber hygiene like multifactor authentication, you can drastically improve your online safety," says Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly.
Check your devices. Before making an online purchase, ensure that your device is equipped with the latest operating system. Each new update adds an extra layer of security.
Make sure you're using strong passwords. Shockingly, the most common password in the country is still 123456. A good rule of thumb is if someone can guess your password from looking at your social media accounts, it's time to change it.
Use multifactor authentication wherever possible. Multifactor (also called two-factor) authentication uses multiple pieces of information to verify your identity. Even if an attacker obtains your password, they may not be able to access your account if you have this multistep verification process enabled.
Conduct careful searches. Scammers can create fake online vendors with names that are similar to trusted sources, for example, Wallmart instead of Walmart. If you land at a site that you think is a trusted source, but something seems off--maybe you spot odd spacing or typos--it could be a fraudulent site.
Check before you checkout. Look for HTTPS (not HTTP) and the padlock symbol in the address bar before inputting your payment information.
"Your cyber safety should be treated like your physical safety," says Easterly. "Stay vigilant, take steps to protect yourself, and trust your instincts. If you see something that doesn't look right, there's a good chance it isn't."
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