Identity theft was higher in 2016 than ever before. In the U.S. alone, around 15.4 million consumers were hit with some kind of ID theft in 2016, compared to 13.1 million in 2015.
Since credit cards became much harder to clone – due to EMV chips – most criminals moved to online purchase hacking. And since online shopping does not require physical credit cards, online fraud went up by 40% in the U.S. in 2016.
Hackers have various ways to steal identity information online. One of the most troubling and increasingly popular ones is financial account takeover. It can happen even if Internet users utilize two-factor authentication, involving text message or token app. Account takeover is a much more serious identity theft than credit card fraud. Credit card fraud is much easier to resolve – it’s often enough to simply place one call to the bank. Account takeover is much more complicated, and this method of identity theft has doubled in one year.
Unfortunately, large scale account takeovers can happen without the user’s knowledge or involvement – for example, when criminals hack into massive amounts of customer data, such a bank’s database.
However, in most cases, account takeovers, as well as the old-fashion credit card information theft, could be prevented if consumers were more careful when performing any financial transactions or when shopping online.
People who shop online are twice as likely to fall victims to identity theft. Many consumers shop online without any added protection, and sometimes even on open Wi-Fi networks, which are very easy to hack into. There are many ways online shopping can become hazardous to any user. For example, a website one found online may be a spoofed fraudulent website set up by hackers to steal the data. Or the online store where one shops may not be using a secure encryption protocol to ensure that their customers’ details are safe during the payment process. Or a customer’s account on the shopping site may get compromised, giving the hacker access to the account.
In order to stay safe when shopping online or performing any other transaction that exposes personal details, there are some simple tips. NordVPN, a VPN service provider that helps secure online experience, advises to follow these simple steps:
The first thing one should always see while making an online payment is whether the payment gateway has an https URL. The ‘s’ in the URL means that it is a secure protocol and your data is encrypted on the site.
2. Stay away from public hotspots
It cannot be stressed enough how dangerous it is to share one’s personal or financial information with any website or any person over the Internet while using a public connection. Public Wi-Fi networks are common hunting grounds for attackers and data snoopers who try to access users’ personal information. Since public networks have negligible security, users should try to avoid using them while making online payments – or if they really have to, then they must use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network.
3. Use a VPN
VPNs encrypt all the data shared between the Internet and VPN server. The encrypted data is sent through a secure tunnel to a VPN server in the country of a user’s choice, and their real IP address is hidden. VPNs are one of essential security mechanism to protect personal online data from prying eyes. NordVPN is a VPN with most advanced encryption protocols, extensive global coverage and no logs policy.
4. Use mobile or e-wallets
E-wallets are said to make online checkouts simpler and more secure. Payment processors, such as Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Wallet and others are already starting to implement this one-click method of payment.
5. Consider a more advanced option: cryptocurrency wallet
For added security, it’s always an option to use cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin. For example, Blockchain, a technology underpinning bitcoin cryptocurrency, is making it much harder for hackers to decipher financial transactions. Blockchain records financial transactions, and, instead of storing this data in one place, it distributes its cryptographic blocks through the network of computers – which makes it much more difficult to access to hackers.
6. Enable two-factor authentication with online accounts. Signing up for tw0-factor authentication with online accounts makes it harder for fraudsters to steal one’s identity. And even if it’s not foolproof protection from hackers, having a two-factor authentication is definitely better than signing in without it.
7. Add account alerts. Account alerts are another way of self-protection. Whenever there is unusual activity on the account, the account owner will be notified.
8. Stronger Passwords
The future of online shopping will most likely involve biometrics – thumbprints and retina scans – which will eventually replace passwords. However, before that happens, the most basic requirement for any online account setup is using strong passwords. A strong password contains at least 10 characters, lower and upper case letters, numbers and characters. Since they are difficult to remember, password managers can help. Weak passwords make it simple for hackers to break into someone’s account.
9. Clean data from a public computer
If a user is working on a shared device, or especially a public computer, they must delete all the data when the session is finished. This involves deleting browsing history and downloaded files. It’s never a good idea to save passwords on public computers or to enter sensitive information. At the end of the session, the computer must be restarted.
10. Anti-virus updates
A computer must be up to date with the most modern anti-virus and firewall software to protect from the newest potential hacker-installed malware and viruses that could also be used to steal one’s personal data.
Being vigilant can help a lot when one shops online. Whenever a website requests for more information than is usually required, like Social Security number or any other kind of personal information, it usually spells fraud. Users should always be cautious before giving away their personal or financial details anywhere on the Internet.