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Ten top tips for safe online banking and shopping

By on Oct 24, 2014 in News | 0 comments

credit-cardOnline banking and shopping are great ways to keep on top of your finances and buy the things you need without having to elbow, and be elbowed, your way through high street crowds. However, both activities are targets for hackers keen to get their digital paws on your personal information. That said, follow a few simple rules, as set out below, and you’ll be safe.


The internet revolution has crept up silently. Ten years ago online banking and shopping was just beginning to take hold. Today both are irrevocably mainstream and growing exponentially each year.

eMarketer, one of the industry’s leading market research firms predicted that global ecommerce sales will increase by just over 20% in 2014 to reach a whopping $1,500 trillion. This figure also factors in surging sales via mobile devices.

According to research by the CEB TowerGroup in April of this year, most retail banking customers in the US prefer to bank through online and mobile channels with at least 70% of customers in the future slated to use digital as their banking channel of choice. A similar pattern is also evident in Europe.

Unfortunately and almost inevitably, there’s also been a corresponding rise in hacking and identity fraud. CIFAS, a UK-based fraud prevention service said: “Year-on-year, impersonation fraud continues to grow. Since 1999 impersonation fraud has risen by 63% and is one of the fastest growing fraud types in the UK.”

Hacking has also spiralled upwards. US intelligence officials reportedly claimed that the US economy is being hit every year by hackers to the tune of $445 billion. The author of the report that cited this figure put it bluntly when he said “Cybercrime is here to stay.”

We’d challenge this assertion and flip it around by saying cybercrime is not only here to stay but will continue to grow, mirroring the inexorable year-on-year growth in online banking and shopping.

Staying safe online

To make sure you don’t become a victim to the deviant ways of cyber criminals, you just need to follow some simple guidelines. Below are ten top tips that will protect you and help you stay safe online.

Your personal data is personal – don’t give it away

As a general rule, irrespective of what you are doing online, you should never ever hand out your personal information. Never ever. Hackers, miscreants and all shades of cyber villains try all sorts of things to get this information from you. It’s gold dust to them. It can be used to carry out identity theft or traded in the vast and underground deep net where this sort of thing is carried out on an industrial scale. Guard your personal information zealously, from name and address, to email addresses, bank account numbers, PIN codes, passwords, passport and driving licence details, social security numbers, in fact anything that identifies you. You’d never give this information to a stranger online, apply the same rule online.

Layer your security

Layered security provides the best defence against cyber villains. Make sure you have up-to-date security software that includes antivirus, anti-spyware and a firewall. The best security software includes layered protection consisting of traditional signature-based virus detection and behavioural-based detection that identifies malicious code that has just been released and as a result is not yet in a database of known viruses. These latter types of viruses are the most dangerous. Further, if you’re using a wireless network make sure it’s encrypted and that you’re using a password to access the network so other people can’t hi-jack your connection.

Update, update, update

Whichever operating system you are using needs to be updated. You will receive these updates automatically – don’t ignore them. Vendors release patches for operating systems when they discover vulnerabilities, or when hackers discover vulnerabilities. You need to apply these updates otherwise the vulnerability won’t be patched and you could be the target of an attack by cyber criminals. They send out automatic sweeps that target the vulnerabilities by identifying computers hooked up to the internet and not protected. The same also applies to the web browser you are using. Always use the latest version because it will be the most secure.

Keep an eye on the kids

If you’ve got ‘wee bairns’ it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their online shenigans. Granted it can be difficult, given that they often fizz around at a molecule melting speed and gravitate towards a raft of online services such as music downloads, apps and fan clubs with the natural attraction of metal to a magnet. Most of these services require payment.

So if you pay for something online to keep the cherubs amused, never give them your card to do the transaction deed. And never leave your card details on the service, such as an app shop, for them to buy everything they desire, because as we know kids are surging oceans of endless desire. If you do, you can bet you’ll end up paying a high price, literally, while the children will have more downloads than they know what to do with.

Further because children by definition are not wise in the ways of the world, they can end up visiting web sites that are less than edifying, and as a result end up inadvertently downloading malicious code designed to plunder all of your personal information. Consequently they need to be educated. You can also use discrete monitoring tools that help you keep an eye on them but also protects the children from the deep murk that is also part of the internet.

The old phishing trick

Phishing is rapidly becoming a time-honoured activity for online scamsters all over the world. In phishing lore, the Nigerian scam is probably the most well known promising the recipient untold riches if only she or he will send their bank account details and a nice little payment to uncork barrels of money. However, since then they’ve got more sophisticated and by and large attempt to emulate emails from bona fide organisations such as banks.

They’re called phishing emails simply because they are just that, they attempt to fish your precious personal information from you. The type of information that you would never hand over to a stranger in the street, such as your bank account number and passwords, the type of information that is invaluable for cyber crooks who use it as a key to unlock the door to banks accounts and credit/debit card details.

Buying online – what to watch out for

You’ve lined up your purchases; the slinky sling backs, latest blinding sounds and wrap around sound, chrome on everything, jewel encrusted flat screen TV – or something similar. Your finger is hovering on the ‘buy’ button and you’re suddenly struck by a shiver of anxiety. Is it safe? Are you about spend lots of money on a website that offers incredibly cheap deals but might not be all that it seems?

To establish the legitimacy of online shopping sites there are a few simple things to look out for. Every online retailer should have a padlock symbol in the browser bar. The padlock should be closed; the symbol is telling you that all transactions are encrypted and secure. You should also look for the http:// symbol. If it changes from http:// to https:// (note the ‘s’) it’s secure. If you don’t see this or the padlock symbol start back pedalling and get off the website. The chances are high that it’s a fake site, designed specifically to divest you of what is yours, and what no doubt you have worked hard for.

Online shopping protection

Look for company details on the web site such as refunds and returns policy and crucially, a contact number. Always print a copy of your order too, so you have evidence of your transaction. You have the same consumer protection rights online as you do on the high street, which means that whatever you buy must be of satisfactory quality and you are entitled to return for a full refund.

Payment methods

The best way to protect yourself when you are making payments online is to use a credit card. Credit card companies have to provide protection for customers as stipulated by mandatory regulations. However, these regulations change from country to country but as a general rule if the item or service is worth more than £100 and less than £30,000 then you will be protected which means that the credit card company will be liable for any defects. In the UK for example the credit card company is as equally responsible as the vendor, especially if the vendor was misleading or if the goods never arrive.

You can also make purchases using PayPal. This payment system, owned by auction website eBay, uses encryption so is theoretically safe. With PayPal, you can send and receive money online, provided you have a valid email address. This service also allows you to use different currencies, such as US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros and Yen. It also has a buyer protection feature, so you can claim for goods up to the value of £250 at no additional cost.

Mobile and online banking

Many of the points above about online shopping also apply to mobile and online banking. Be wary of emails requesting personal details, check the website banking page to make sure it is secure and legitimate by looking for the https:// and locked padlock symbol and generally be a little bit guarded. Online banking is a useful and time saving service but it also attracts a fair amount of cyber criminal activity. One of the things noted in recent months are ‘banking’ apps for mobile devices in app stores that are being passed off as the real thing, when in fact they are fake pages designed to get in between your device and bank in order to steal your information.

This has been so small scale it’s certainly not a trend but it’s worth highlighting because it illustrates the lengths cyber criminals go to, to get banking information and how they are constantly developing new techniques and methods. And of course, you need to protect your device with good security software. People today accept that desktop PCs need good protection but when it comes to mobile devices there isn’t the same level of awareness or even willingness to accept the dangers. This in itself is dangerous because as the world in general goes increasingly mobile, hackers simply follow the crowds, because as they see it, that’s where the greatest opportunities are.

Online Auctions

Online auctions are great places to scoop some deals but they also attract a fair amount of scammers. The most obvious pitfall is buying items that you never receive or sending an item to someone and you never receive payment. There are also cyber crooks out there who dedicate themselves to hi-jacking your account to make big purchases and steal your information for identity theft. Online auction users are often also targets for phishing emails.

You can take a few simple steps to protect yourself from these types of scams. Firstly choose an anonymous screen name when you’re creating a profile, one that says nothing about you and one that sticks to basic information. In short, you don’t want to be revealing anything about yourself that is more than absolutely necessary.

Secondly, create a strong and unique password. This is an important step, a good password will keep account hijackers at bay. Use at least 10 characters and include a mixture of upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers. Essentially you need to make it hard for anyone to guess what it might be. A good example would be something like ‘7auCTion:-deAl-s:-‘. You don’t want to forget it so you need to file it somewhere safe. And never use personal information like name, age, year of birth and so on.