Cyber Awareness

The Home User’s Guide to Secure Online Shopping


Joseph Morgan


03 September, 2023



So, you love the convenience of online shopping, huh? Who doesn’t? But let’s get serious for a moment—have you ever stopped to think about how secure your online transactions are? Imagine your online shopping cart as a real cart in a physical store. Would you leave it unattended with all your personal items in it? Probably not. This article is your go-to guide for making sure your virtual shopping cart—and all the personal information that goes with it—is as secure as Fort Knox. Let’s dive in!

Woman doing online shopping inserting credit card number
Online shopping

Why Cyber Awareness Matters

Think of Cyber Awareness as your online “spidey sense.” It’s that gut feeling that tells you when something isn’t quite right. Being cyber-aware means you’re less likely to fall into traps set by cybercriminals. It’s like having a security guard for your online life. For example, if you’re cyber-aware, you’d think twice before clicking on a link from an unknown source.

  • Be Skeptical: Don’t take things at face value. Always question the legitimacy of unsolicited communications.
  • Stay Updated: Keep up with the latest cybersecurity news. Knowledge is power.
  • Educate Others: Share your knowledge with friends and family. Cyber Awareness is a community effort.

The Importance of Strong Passwords

Your password is like the key to your home. Would you use a flimsy key that anyone could easily duplicate? No, you’d want a strong, unique key. A robust password is your first line of defence against cyber threats. For instance, instead of using “password123,” a stronger alternative could be “Pa$$W0rD!321.”

  • Mix of Characters: Use a combination of upper-case letters, lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Avoid Personal Information: Your name, birthday, and address are easy to guess. Stay away from these.
  • Update Regularly: Change your passwords every 3-6 months. Set reminders to help you remember.

Secure Payment Methods

Credit cards, digital wallets, or direct bank transfers—which is the safest? Credit cards often offer better fraud protection. Digital wallets like PayPal add an extra layer of security. For example, PayPal keeps your financial information hidden from sellers.

  • Credit Cards: These often come with fraud protection and chargeback options.
  • Digital Wallets: Services like PayPal and Apple Pay provide an extra layer of security by not sharing your card details with sellers.
  • Bank Transfers: Generally not recommended due to fewer security features. Use only with trusted entities.


Recognising Phishing Scams

Ever received an email that seemed too good to be true? Phishing scams often disguise themselves as legitimate businesses. For instance, you might get an email claiming you’ve won a lottery you never entered. Always double-check the email address and never click on suspicious links.

  • Check Email Address: Make sure it matches the company’s official website. Scammers often use email addresses that look similar but have typos.
  • Look for Typos: Poor grammar and spelling are red flags.
  • Verify Offers: If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Confirm with the official website or customer service.

Using Secure Networks

Imagine sending a postcard with all your personal information through a public mailbox. Risky, right? That’s what you’re doing when you shop online using a public network. Stick to secure, private networks. For example, use your home Wi-Fi instead of the free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop.

  • Home Network: Always more secure than public Wi-Fi. Make sure it’s protected by a strong password.
  • WPA3 Encryption: This is the latest and most secure Wi-Fi encryption. Update your router if it’s not supported.
  • Guest Network: Use this for visitors to keep your main network secure. This isolates your guests from your primary network.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication is like having a double lock on your door. It requires not just a password, but also a second form of identification. For example, after entering your password, you might receive a text with a verification code.

  • SMS Verification: A code is sent to your mobile device. Enter this code to complete the login.
  • Authentication App: Apps like Google Authenticator generate a time-sensitive code. Use this for login.
  • Biometric Data: Fingerprint or facial recognition can serve as the second factor, offering even more security.

Regular Software Updates

Keeping your software updated is like getting regular check-ups for your car. It ensures everything runs smoothly and securely. For instance, outdated software might have vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

  • Automatic Updates: Enable this feature where possible. This ensures you’re always running the latest version.
  • Check Manually: Some updates need to be triggered manually. Make it a habit to check.
  • Don’t Ignore Reminders: Those update notifications are more important than you think. They often include security patches.

Monitoring Your Accounts

Keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements. If you spot any fishy transactions, report them immediately. For example, if you see a charge for a service you didn’t use, contact your bank right away.

  • Regular Checks: Make it a habit to check your statements at least once a week.
  • Set Alerts: Many banks offer alerts for large or unusual transactions. Enable these.
  • Quick Reporting: The faster you report an issue, the quicker it can be resolved and the less damage will be done.

Safe Online Shopping Websites

Look for websites that have secure payment gateways. Check for a padlock symbol in the address bar and the ‘HTTPS’ prefix. For example, Amazon’s URL starts with “https,” indicating a secure connection.

  • Padlock Symbol: This indicates that the website encrypts any data sent and received.
  • HTTPS: This is a secure version of HTTP. Data sent over these sites is encrypted.
  • Trusted Certificates: Look for security badges from reputable organisations like Norton or McAfee.
online shopping
Online shopping

Reading Reviews and Ratings

Before making a purchase, read reviews and ratings to ensure the website or seller is reputable. For example, if a seller has numerous negative reviews, it’s a red flag.

  • Multiple Reviews: The more reviews, the better. This gives you a broader understanding of the seller’s reputation.
  • Verified Purchases: These reviews are more trustworthy as they come from actual buyers.
  • Overall Rating: Aim for sellers or products with at least a 4 out of 5-star rating.

Avoiding Public Wi-Fi for Transactions

Public Wi-Fi is like a public restroom; you don’t know who’s been there before you. Avoid making transactions over public networks. For example, if you’re at an airport, wait until you’re home or use your mobile data.

  • Use Mobile Data: If you have to make a transaction on the go, switch to your mobile data.
  • Wait Until Home: If it’s not urgent, it can wait. Better safe than sorry.
  • VPN: If you absolutely must, use a VPN on public Wi-Fi to encrypt your data.

Secure Your Mobile Devices

Your smartphone is like a mini-computer. Make sure it’s just as secure by installing security apps and keeping the software updated. For instance, if you’re using an Android device, Google Play Protect can scan your device for harmful apps.

  • Security Apps: Choose one from a reputable provider like Norton or McAfee. These apps often come with features like remote wipe and location tracking.
  • Software Updates: Keep your operating system and apps updated. These updates often contain security patches that protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities.
  • App Permissions: Be cautious about the permissions you grant to apps. For example, a shopping app doesn’t need access to your contacts.


Online shopping doesn’t have to be a cybersecurity minefield. By following these steps, you can enjoy a secure shopping experience. Remember, Cyber Awareness is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and most importantly, stay secure.