Nobody wants to go shopping with identity thieves. Here’s how to protect yourself.
This article originally appeared on Debt.com
When you shop online with your cell phone, you may just assume that your phone is secure when it comes to paying with a credit or debit card or logging into accounts with a password. Like many assumptions, however, that false sense of security can lead to financial troubles.
That’s because when you use your phone to shop online, pay for groceries, order food delivery or charge other items or services, you could be vulnerable to criminals out to steal your sensitive, personal information for identity theft purposes. By taking proper precautions, however, you can help protect yourself from identity theft when shopping on your phone.
Below are seven ways to protect your identity when shopping on your cell phone.
Stay on top of software updates
Those update reminders that pop up on your phone may be annoying, but you could be more upset later if you ignore them. Putting off cell phone software updates makes your phone vulnerable to cyberattack, since smartphone updates add protection by fixing weaknesses in the system that leave your phone open to hackers.
Install security software
Taking the extra step of purchasing and downloading anti-virus and anti-malware software from a well-known security software provider onto your phone adds additional layers of protection. For example, the app may alert you to suspicious activities and support if someone else uses your identity for unauthorized transactions.
Security software may also offer dark web monitoring, malicious website blocking, access to your credit report and other features that prevent phone vulnerability to identity thieves and hackers. Ask your carrier about purchasing cell phone ID protection, which can be bundled into your monthly phone bill.
Never shop while using public Wi-Fi
When using public Wi-Fi, your devices become more vulnerable to hackers out to steal passwords, account numbers and other personal data that can be used to steal your identity. Try to avoid using public Wi-Fi in general if you can. If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) purchased from a reputable security software company. A VPN creates a private network from a public internet connection
Only pay on secure websites
When paying for any item or service on your phone, make sure the website address begins with “https.” That “s” means the site is secure. If you get ready to pay, and a page comes up without “https” in the address, it’s time to move on to the next deal — on a secure website where your credit card or debit card information is protected from identity theft.
Only shop reputable retailers
Those constant ads for clothes, home goods and electronic devices that pop up while you’re browsing online could prompt an impulse buy that you might regret later if your credit card or debit card information is stolen. If you’re not familiar with the retailer selling the item, it may be best to shop for a similar item at a name-brand store instead.
If you must have that outfit, home decor or other item, at least perform an online search using “customer reviews,” “scam” and “rip-off,” along with the retailer’s name as search terms to see what comes up in the search results. And if you make the purchase, make sure the payment page address begins with “https.”
Don’t download just any app
Downloading apps to your phone can put your privacy at risk, according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. That’s because many apps ask for personal information such as email contacts and other sensitive information that could be sold to third parties.
To help prevent downloading malicious apps, the CISA recommends limiting app download sources to official app stores such as Google Play Store or the App Store.
Monitor your credit report
Even if you’re taking precautions to protect your phone and sensitive, personal information from identity thieves, you still need to check your credit report regularly for unauthorized accounts or other suspicious activity.
Usually, you can order one free credit report annually at AnnualCreditReport.com. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all three credit bureaus are now offering one free credit report a week through April 20, 2022.