August 10, 2019

Most people do a certain amount of their shopping online these days.  One website predicts that in 2019, 1.92 billion people will purchase something online (1).  That’s about a quarter of all the people in the world!

Online shopping includes many different methods.  From the occasional visitor to a website, to the regular shopper on Amazon, to the subscriber to various online services – most of us have purchased something online and will do so again this year.

In addition to these basic internet shopping methods, there are now more specific ways to buy online and many different payment methods.  You can download a book on an Amazon Kindle.  You can make in-app purchases on many smartphone apps.  As to payment methods, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and others have entered this lucrative market.  Paypal is the most ubiquitous – but not nearly the only – online payment method.  Many stores have their own apps that allow you to pay for their products in the app – from ordering pizza to getting a ride from Uber.

With all these online transactions come people looking to profit illegally from identity theft, ransomware, and other cyberattacks.  A little personal cybersecurity can go a long way toward staying safe when making online purchases.  And with the ease of making online purchases, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re being wise in our spending.  Here are a few tips along both of these lines.

Cybersecurity.  Take a few basic precautions to reduce the danger of being a victim of cybercrime:

  1. Never make an online purchase over an unsecured public wi-fi network.  You can tell if a network is secured by whether or not you needed to enter a password to access it.  Any non-secure network is a prime target for cybercrime, and even the popular secured networks can be vulnerable.  Best advice: if you’re going to purchase online, do it on your home network or on your smartphone using the cellular connection (not a wi-fi connection).
  2. Be aware of how many places you store your financial information.  Every different site you enter a credit card number on – especially if you store that number for convenience on a return visit – is one more site you have to care about being hacked.  A 2017 article on www.telegraph.co.uk (2) cited that in one year alone, the number of online shops hit by serious losses of consumer data doubled.  Using a service like Paypal can help reduce the risk of your information being endangered.  Opt not to store your credit card number on online sites – it only takes a few seconds to enter it the next time you visit the site, and your information will stay more secure.
  3. Many of us pay our bills online.  Billers – from retailers to utilities to credit card companies – all want you to use their sites to pay bills.  This gives them more control and in their eyes increases the probability of on-time payments.  But again, the more of these sites you use to pay bills, the more places your information is stored on the web.  Opt instead for using your bank’s bill payment service or something similar that lets you put all your online transactions in one place.  You’ll be more secure and more in control of your online financial transactions.  Plus you’ll be in a better position to see all your upcoming bills than if you have to go to multiple sites.

Prudent Spending

Online retailers are motivated to make it easy for you to purchase.  From Amazon’s “1-click buy” option to mobile payment apps, it’s getting easier and quicker to spend your money.  That’s the way the retailers want it, but is it what’s best for you?  Easy purchasing leads to more impulse spending (aka, non-budgeted items) and that can be a real budget buster.  Use discipline and restraint in purchasing online, and make sure you’re paying only for what you really need.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Purchase online only those items you have already included in your Spending Plan.  This one practice more than any other will help ensure that your online spending doesn’t get you in trouble.
  2. Keep track of online subscriptions – whether to services, communities, magazines, etc.  Make sure you really need and use the ones you have.  These can be like gym memberships – purchased and then forgotten, but continuing to cost month by month.  Many software companies are also going to a subscription model, which guarantees ongoing income for them but may not always be the best deal for the consumer.

(1) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/13/cyber-attacks-online-retailers-double-year-hackers-try-steal/, accessed on 08/03/2019.

(2) https://founderu.selz.com/40-online-shopping-ecommerce-statistics-know/, accessed on 08/03/2019.