Shopping on Your Mobile Device? Here’s How to Stay Safe

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It might be hard to believe, but retailers are already gearing up for the holiday shopping season — and many of them are encouraging consumers to use their mobile devices to make purchases. After all, what’s easier on Black Friday: Standing in line in the cold pre-dawn hours to snag a deal on a brand new television, or simply making a few taps on your phone to purchase the same TV, and then heading back to bed?

Although concerns about security, not to mention the difficulty of making purchase decisions using the typically small smartphone screen, have left some consumers wary of making mobile purchases, it is a growing trend. Specific numbers vary, but one study by the National Cyber Security Alliance and PayPal found that as 25 percent of adults make at least one transaction per day on their phones, and one in six adults make at least 25 percent of their purchases using their devices. Other experts question these results, suggesting that only between 10-15 percent of adults shop on their mobile devices, but everyone agrees on one point: The use of mobile devices for shopping is increasing.

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While mobile shopping is certainly convenient, it does raise some significant security issues. Unlike walking into a store and paying cash (which all survey respondents listed as the safest way to shop), sharing your payment details over a wireless connection does present some risk. That being said, if you pay attention to security and use the tools that are available to you, you can snag that great deal using your phone without any trouble.

Use Secure Connections

You wouldn’t post your credit card number on a poster in your front window, would you? Yet when you use public Wi-Fi to make your purchases on the go, you are essentially doing just that. Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t encrypted, so anything that you send over the network could potentially be intercepted by a hacker who’s gained access to it. Save your shopping spree for your encrypted home network or other network that you know is secure.

In addition, check the Web address of any site that you’re shopping. Never make a purchase from a site that begins is just http://; only purchase from sites that are secured, i.e., https://. When a site is https, it means it is protected by Secure Socket Layer encryption, and hackers can’t see the information being shared.

Use Antivirus Protection

One point that security experts make time and again is that smartphones are, in essence, small computers. Yet people usually fail to treat them as such, and forget basic security precautions, such as antivirus protection. Cyber criminals are developing malware specifically designed to attack mobile devices, and without an Android security product to protect your phone or tablet, you could fall victim to a malicious app that will expose all of your sensitive data to criminals.

Even if you do have a security program on you device, use the same caution when clicking on your phone as you would on your computer. Don’t respond to phishing messages, and be suspicious of links that arrive in emails and text messages. Again, a quality antivirus product will help block malware and scan links for harmful software.

Protect Your Payment Information

The most secure way to shop on your mobile device is via the store’s official app. When downloading apps, double-check to be sure that you are downloading the official app and not a spoofed version; in most cases, the app you find on the store’s website or in app stores is the legitimate version. Again, check to make sure that purchase details are encrypted before hitting “buy.” If you are using a payment app, be especially careful to download the legitimate version.

Even if you are using an app, take steps to protect your payment data. Never use a debit card to make mobile purchases, since debit cards do not come with the same fraud protections as credit cards. Do not store your payment data either. If your device is ever lost or stolen, a criminal could easily make additional purchases using the stored information. Finally, use your device’s security features to protect any stored information and your purchase history. Lock the phone using a PIN or biometrics, utilize two-factor authentication when available, and close your apps when not in use.

Shopping with your mobile device can be convenient and safe, if you take the necessary precautions. With just a few swipes and clicks, you can get your holiday shopping done without even getting out of bed.

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