by Bill Fisher
You can use the Internet to do almost anything these days, such as online banking, shopping and bill payments, to name just a few. However, unlike doing business in the real world, it’s not always clear how best to protect yourself and your financial information online. Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to make sure your information stays safe.
Use a credit card, not your debit card or bank account
When shopping online, we recommend that you always use a credit card. That way, you’ll be able to dispute the charges directly with your credit card company, rather than try to request your money back from the seller.
A safe alternative is a service called PayPal. It offers many of the same protections as your credit card, and several reputable sites allow it as a form of payment, including eBay and Etsy. You can create your own PayPal account for free by visiting www.PayPal.com.
Double-check that the site is secure
Before you enter any kind of sensitive information on the Web, like a credit card number, you’ll want to see if the website you’re using is secure. And don’t worry, that’s not as complicated as it sounds. Just make sure you see the characters https:// before the rest of the website’s address.
For example, if you were using the BB&T website to manage your bank account, you’d want to see: https://www.bbt.com in the addess bar at the top of the screen. It’s also worth noting that many online stores only use this setting during the actual payment process, and that’s OK. If you don’t see the https at first, just remember to look for it before entering your payment information.
Watch out for phishing
Secure sites can protect your information, but you also need to be aware that cybercriminals can contact you directly through phishing scams. Many phishing scams are made to look like official notices from your bank, credit card company, or other financial institutions. Cybercriminals can create official-looking emails and websites that are designed to trick you into giving up credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
So, what’s the easiest way to avoid phishing? We recommend that you never respond to emails, pop-ups, text messages, or phone calls from your financial institution asking for personal information. Instead, navigate directly to your bank’s website, call them yourself, or visit in person to verify if there is a problem.
When all else fails, trust your best judgement
As when doing business in the real world, always trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable making a transaction on a certain website, it’s not worth the risk. While the Internet has made it faster and easier to complete all kinds of transactions, there’s still usually a way to do it offline if you prefer.
Fisher is an instructional designer with GCFLearnFree.org, a program of the Goodwill Community Foundation® and Goodwill Industries of Eastern N.C. For more information, visit www.GCFLearnFree.org.