Is it safe to shop online? For the most part, yes. Consumers’ online shopping habits and their level of knowledge on cybersecurity may be difference between safe and unsafe. Cybercriminals pry on the weakness of the consumer; their lack of knowledge on how to identify and evade phishing emails; weak passwords or same password for all Internet accounts and the use of public Wi-Fi to log into private accounts. Simply put, they depend on the consumer’s failure to follow cybersecurity best practices.

Over the past few years, there has been significant increase of online consumers. e-Commerce websites offer consumers more options and product selection accessible at the comfort of their homes. To remain relevant, competitive and get a share of the online market, brick and mortar stores offer their own online incentives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people resorted to online shopping even for items they used to buy from neighborhood stores. Coincidentally, as online consumer activity increased, so did cybercrime.

How to shop safely online

If you do fall victim to cybercriminals, it could potentially cost you much more than the cash in your bank account but your identity as well, leading to bigger financial and personal problems. There are regular stories of online fraudsters and hackers, but the truth is that cybercriminals are less likely to get hold of your credit card details unless they are knowingly or unknowingly shared by you. Online shopping requires extra vigilance. Online shopping risks include the following:

  • Identity theft – this usually involves cybercriminals hacking into e-commerce websites and stealing users’ login or credit card details. It enables them to either impersonate users to make fraudulent purchases or sell personal details to other criminals online.
  • Fake online stores – unfortunately, not all e-commerce sites are genuine. Scammers may set up fake websites designed to look like established, genuine retailers. They copy design and layouts and steal logos to trick unsuspecting users into thinking they are visiting a trusted website. They may offer popular clothing brands, jewelry, and electronics at low prices. Sometimes users receive the items they have paid for, but they are usually fake. Other times, users do not receive anything at all.

How to differentiate a safe shopping site from a fraudulent one

  • Check the SSL certificate – SSL stands for ‘Secure Sockets Layer’ and is an indication that a website is secure. Essentially, it is an encryption method which websites that ask for sensitive or personal information – such as your credit card details – should have. To check that an online shopping website has an up-to-date SSL certificate, look for a padlock icon in the URL bar of your web browser, or check that the URL starts with HTTPS, not HTTP (the S stands for “secure”).
  • Look for a privacy statement – A privacy policy explains how the business collects, uses, and stores sensitive data from its customers. While laws and regulations vary worldwide, reputable online retailers should have a clear privacy statement. If they do not, it could be a red flag. Steer clear of deals that seem too good to be true. If a website appears to be selling designer clothes or jewelry or electronics for considerably less than the usual retail price, be very suspicious. You could be handing over money for fakes or replicas.
  • Verify the address and location – Before you give away your credit or debit card information, check if the address and phone number are authentic. Legitimate retailers will usually have a contact number and physical address visible in either the header or footer. If you are not sure whether an online shop is genuine, one way to check is by copying and pasting their address details into a search engine to see if their location is verifiable. Fake sellers will either not provide an address or use a fake one.
  • Check if the website accepts credit cards – Credit cards are considered one of the safest methods of making online transactions since it is easier for credit card issuers to refund money lost to fraud. Websites that do not accept credit card payments could be a cause for concern because it is more difficult for fraudulent websites to become certified by credit card companies.
  • Look at online reviews – while reviews can be fake, it is still helpful to look at the overall pattern of reviews from other customers when shopping online. Trusted review sites can give you a sense of how genuine a retailer is and what other customers think before you purchase.

To be a cybersmart, here are some tips for safe and secure online shopping:

  • Type the URL directly into the address bar
  • Use a dedicated email address
  • Manage and protect your online passwords
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi to log in to online accounts
  • Stick to familiar brands you know or have heard of
  • If you do buy from a new vendor, do a thorough research
  • Be alert to the type of information you are asked to provide
  • Only make payments online using safe, trusted payments methods
  • Use extra caution when using your mobile device for online purchases
  • Always log off after online shopping
  • Read your credit card statements
  • Install antivirus or anti-malware software in your computer

Be cybersmart, be proactive, be reactive; prevent and report cybersecurity incidents and help us keep Eswatini safe and secure.