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While your biggest risk for identity fraud is being caught up in a data breach that exposes consumer information, you’re also at risk when shopping online. That’s important to remember, since e-commerce fraud has increased significantly in recent years, jumping 30 percent from 2016 to 2017 alone. In all, combined phone and online shopping fraud is expected to cost consumers nearly $20 billion per year by 2022.

Fortunately, protecting yourself from identity theft when shopping online is straightforward, as long as you follow these key steps:

Only buy from reputable companies

Online data thieves can set up a convincing storefront and start processing payments within minutes, so you should never trust that “hot new brand” that you know nothing about. Instead, only shop from reputable companies that have an established business history. While you can’t guarantee they won’t suffer a data breach, at least you’ll know that they’re not data thieves themselves. In addition, watch out for fake sites that mimic popular sites.

Always check website security

These days, every business website should be fully secured, period. That means every URL should start with “https://” instead of a simple “http://” prefix. Additionally, you should always check to make sure your web browser has marked the website as secure. In most cases this means you’ll see a green button or padlock icon near the address bar.
To be sure, click on that icon to observe the site’s security information and make sure its certificates are up to date. Most modern browsers will proactively alert you if any of these details seem questionable, but it never hurts to check yourself.

Don’t shop on public networks

Public Wi-Fi is one of the most common ways for hackers to find targets, and data thieves can even set up phony networks or redirect legitimate traffic from open networks to their own servers. That means a public Wi-Fi network is never safe—even when protected—because you’ll have no way of knowing whether a data thief is “spoofing” the connection protocols to steal data or monitor your activity.
Entering or transmitting your payment information in that scenario would be handing it directly to the thief, so stay safe and only shop when you’re at home or on a secured network at your workplace.

Use credit, preferably disposable or virtual

If a thief gets your debit or checking account numbers, they might have cleaned the entire account out by the time you realize something’s wrong. While you’ll eventually get that money back, it can take a long time and is often more complicated than disputing a credit card transaction.
Additionally, credit cards usually have stronger fraud protections than debit or checking, and most major issuers have aggressive fraud monitoring that will alert you when a suspicious transaction has occurred.
For the ultimate protection, only shop with disposable prepaid credit cards or virtual card numbers. A virtual number is usually a single-use payment number that automatically deactivates once you’ve made your purchase. Many major banks will generate a virtual number for you for free, or you can use a third-party service.

Don’t store private information

Though it’s convenient to let your phone or computer automatically remember your login and payment information, you should resist the temptation. In the event your device is hacked or lost, thieves will immediately have complete access to your financial life, and would even have the additional information from personal emails and other data that they would need to answer security questions and bypass other screening measures.

With smart network usage and good payment practices, you can keep yourself reasonably safe from identity theft when shopping online. If you still have questions about shopping safely online you can ask a lawyer today.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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