Should You Buy When You’re on Wifi?


Whether you’re a consumer who hates to shop or loves to shop ‘til you drop, wifi shopping must seem like the new nirvana. Gone are the sold out sales and the long lines at the cash register. Now consumers can comparison shop from the comfort of their laptops anywhere there’s a wifi connection.

A 2010 Online Shopper Intelligence Study by Compete, a Kantar Media Company, found that 83% of them are doing just that – shopping online at least once a week. But poll after poll shows that e-shoppers are concerned that they could be putting their personal information at risk every time they buy online.

The bad news is they are right. Online shopping can lead to consumer account information and credit and debit card information being stolen by cyberthieves. That can result in identity theft and identity fraud which may not become obvious until victims check their credit card or bank statements or their credit reports.

Yet consumers are routinely using free wifi for e-commerce, according to a November, 2010 survey of 2600 people in the U.S., the UK and Australia by the security firm Webroot. The Webroot survey found that 23% of those who responded said they feel safe using a public wireless connection, while 18% said they would shop for gifts at wifi hotspots. This in spite of the fact that one in seven of the consumers polled had already been the victim of credit, debit or PayPal account fraud last year! What should we conclude from these findings? It seems that online shoppers either don’t know or don’t care that hackers can sniff their wireless data at wifi hotspots. That’s because the majority of hotspots don’t encrypt it.

The Webroot survey also found that 52% of online shoppers don’t check for the https on websites; and 50% don’t look for the padlock icon which indicates that that their information is encrypted.

With the rise of online shopping at wifi hotspots, it seems that old warning to consumers could take on a whole new 21st century meaning:

“Let the buyer beware.”

Follow These Steps to Secure Your Online Shopping

  • Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus and antispyware software are up to date. Run scans frequently.
  • Don’t save any passwords in your browser for sites that you visit.
  • Don’t enter or access sensitive personal information when you’re using a public wifi hotspot. Thanks to Firesheep, stealing your data no longer requires any special hacking skills. Now anyone can do it.
  • Make sure you’re shopping on secure sites. That means your credit card information will be encrypted. Check for https and the padlock icon.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card when shopping online. Credit cards offer better liability protection for consumers.
  • Before shopping, check out every website’s privacy policy. If they share your information, you could be inundated with spam.
  • Never click on an email ad that takes you to a store website. That could lead you to a bogus site that steals all your personal information. Always type the name of the site you plan to shop at in your browser window.
  • Make sure you have the correct name of any public wifi hotspot before you log in. That will prevent you from connecting to a rogue hotspot which could expose your personal information and endanger your laptop’s security.
  • Disable file sharing when you’re using a public wifi hotspot.
  • Turn off your wifi connection when you’re not using it.
  • At home, use complex wireless passwords – a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network connection) like PRIVATE WiFi™ to protect your identity online. It does that by sending all the data traveling to and from your computer through a secure tunnel that’s invisible to hackers.

If you’ve been hacked shopping at a wifi hotspot, we’d like to hear your story. Drop us line and let us know what happened.

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