The COVID-19 lockdown has had a significant impact on the way we socialize and work. Internet usage has seen a noticeable spike since the lockdown, and as a result, online shopping has also increased. The online shopping surge is a combination of social distancing as well as the fact that online shopping in South Africa fully reopened during level four lockdown.

The increase in internet use also means that hacking, phishing and malware attacks have seen a drastic increase. Similar to protecting your business website with cybersecurity as well as following internet safety precautions, some safety tips will also protect you when shopping online.

Use strong passwords and regularly change old passwords

As basic and obvious as this one is, it’s a crucial step in protecting your sensitive information. Make sure your passwords aren’t easy to guess and have a unique password for every e-commerce site by using password generating apps on your smartphone or desktop. Password managers create and store complicated passwords for you under one account. You can generate and store unique passwords for apps on your phone, online shopping apps, and e-commerce sites.

Most of these apps have free versions and are available for Android devices as well as iOS. Here are a few popular ones:

  • LastPass
  • 1Password
  • Dashlane

 Only buy from encrypted websites 

An encrypted website is a site that encrypts all communication between you and the website; meaning that an unauthorized party cannot intercept that communication and have access to sensitive data. This encryption is especially important when using your credit card details or any other confidential information on the internet. If you’re not sure how to spot a website that is encrypted, here are some basic pointers:

  • Look for HTTPS instead of HTTP in the URL; the ‘S’ stands for secure. It means that the website has a valid SSL certificate
  • Check if the site has a lock in front of the URL
  • Look for the website’s privacy policy
  • Find the address and contact information to be sure that they are a legitimate company

Activate your two-factor authentication

Add an extra layer of security by activating two-factor authentication for online transactions. All credit cards and bank cards have the OTP (One Time Pin) option to verify transactions; make use of this if you’re a frequent online shopper. Two-factor authentication allows you to flag suspicious transactions immediately and alert your bank.

Check your bank statements regularly 

Conducting regular checks will ensure that you don’t miss unknown or unauthorized transactions on your account. Usually, banking notifications only alert you of purchases above R99, anything less than that amount often goes unnoticed. There is a recurring scam in South Africa where a company fraudulently debits R99 from unsuspecting people and for the most part can go unnoticed for several months. Regularly checking your statements can prevent ongoing scams such as the R99 debit order scam.

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) gives the following tips to consumers:

  • Check your bank statements regularly for transactions you do not recognize
  • Query unauthorized debit orders with your bank immediately and report the details to the Payments Association of South Africa at [email protected]
  • Ensure that your bank has your correct cellphone number so that you receive SMS alerts when money is deducted from your account and also to receive DebiCheck confirmation requests.
  • Be wary when entering into contracts verbally, electronically or in writing.
  • Do not share or confirm your banking details, including your account number and branch code, if you are not certain precisely what they will be used for.
  • Do not dispute debit orders that you have authorized.

Be wary of strange emails, links and pop-ups

Keep track of your email subscriptions so you can easily spot unsolicited mails. If you receive a suspicious email with a link or overwhelming call-to-action, even an unbelievable discount do not click on the link. Instead, check directly on the website, if the deal is real, then it will surely be on the website homepage.

The convenience of online shopping is unmatched; in times of social distancing, shopping online can go a long way in preventing transmissions. Stay home, stay safe and shop online.