How online shoppers have lost millions to fraud during the pandemic: 'You have enormous vulnerability'

Kristine Solomon

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Make online shopping a safe experience for the whole family. (Photo: Getty Images)
Make online shopping a safe experience for the whole family. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s another Saturday afternoon during the global pandemic, and you’re back on Amazon, filling your cart with household items and groceries. You haven’t been able to make your typical Target and Walmart runs lately, so you’re stocking up virtually instead.

Online shopping: everyone does it so it’s pretty harmless, right? Well, not always. Fraud is a possibility any time you shop online, according to Experian. And during a worldwide pandemic or even the holiday season, you’re especially vulnerable to hackers, phishers, and identity thieves. Covid-related fraud has already robbed a cumulative $13.4 million from unsuspecting Americans, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

That’s because so many people are shopping online at once, and are distracted from their normal routines, says cyber security expert and CyberScout founder Adam Levin. “People are trying to juggle working from home, homeschooling, applying for unemployment, looking for their stimulus checks” in addition to all that late-night shopping, he told Yahoo Life. “You have enormous vulnerability. Scammers now know that they can use all of these different avenues.”

But here’s the thing: you can and should shop safely online without fear of getting your identity or any of your sensitive information stolen. It’s actually pretty easy to protect yourself. It’s all about investing in the right cyber security tools. Here are five essential tools for anyone who shops online.

1. Strong Security Software

Norton Security Online (Photo: Norton)
Norton Security Online (Photo: Norton)

Strong security software is a must for preventing viruses, ransomware and malware attacks while you’re jumping from one online store to another, snapping up sales. You might not even know you’re on a malicious website, but they can secretly steal your personal information or even overtake your entire device, according to software leader Norton.

The company has a solution for that. Its Norton Security Online (affiliated with Yahoo Life’s parent company, Verizon Media) software can make all of that a non-issue. It safeguards your web surfing across five devices—PC, Mac, Android, and iPhones included—on a single subscription, so the whole family can shop confidently.

Now’s the time to pounce: Yahoo has partnered with Norton Security Online to extend their typical 30-day free-trial period to 90 days, and the site won’t ask for your credit card information until you decide to sign up at just $4.99 a month going forward.

Shop it: Norton Security Online, free for 90 days (no credit card required for trial) then $4.99 per month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

2. A VPN

ExpressVPN (Photo: ExpressVPN)
ExpressVPN (Photo: ExpressVPN)

“Never use free public WiFi,” warns Levin. But even if you are shopping on your own private WiFi network during lockdown, your information can be vulnerable. Every site you visit is reading your device’s IP address, so fraud and theft are always lingering threats.

With a VPN, you can rest assured your IP address and even your location are private, and your identity is totally anonymous. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and one of the most popular is Express VPN. Install and run this browser plug-in and your network will be automatically encrypted—and end-to-end encryption is something Levin recommends strongly.

An ExpressVPN subscription starts at $8.32 per month if you commit to a full year right now during the brand’s 35 percent off sale.

Shop it: ExpressVPN, starting at $8.32 a month for one year, expressvpn.com

3. A Password Manager

LastPass Password Manager (Photo: LastPass)
LastPass Password Manager (Photo: LastPass)

Logging into each account for each of your favorite online stores requires one key talent: remembering your password. Sorry to bust your bubble, but Levin says it’s a bad idea and a big risk to use the sameor similar passwords everywhere. He recommends creating “long and strong passwords,” a.k.a. complex passwords you’ll never possibly remember. Wait...what? Well, that’s where a password manager comes into play.

“Certainly [a password manager] makes people feel more comfortable either by creating their own complex passwords that they inventory within the password manager” or having the password manager generate a long string of characters on its own, he says. LastPass does just that, and keeps all of these airtight passwords stored safely and synced across all your devices. Save each password once and you’ll be instantly logged in to any site you subscribe to going forward.

In a special offer for Yahoo readers, LastPass Premium has extended its free-trial period from 30 days to 90, plus the site won’t even require your credit card information until you decide to subscribe. After that, it’s $1.99 a month for ultimate password protection.

Shop it: LastPass Premium, free for 90 days (no credit card required for trial) then $1.99 per month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

4. A Pop Up Ad Blocker

AdBlock (Photo: AdBlock)
AdBlock (Photo: AdBlock)

You know all those pop-up ads you deal with just by trying to enter your credit card information to make one simple purchase? They’re not only annoying—they might also be dangerous. In the best-case scenario, pop-up ads are trying to get you to sign up for special offers. In the worst-case scenario, they’re implanting cookies in your device and maybe even viruses, adware, spyware, and more malicious scripts.

“You don't want malware that turns your computer into a transmitter,” says Levin about a specific kind of threat that logs each of your keystrokes. Most reputable sites won’t present such a risk, but you never know when you’ll click on the wrong link and end up somewhere you shouldn’t be.

AdLock makes all of those annoying and dangerous ads a thing of the past, so you can shop uninterrupted and unharmed. You save 53 percent by subscribing to one year for just $1.64 a month.

Shop it: AdLock, starting at $1.64 a month for a year, adlock.com

5. A Mobile Security App

Avast Mobile Security App. (Photo: Avast)
Avast Mobile Security App. (Photo: Avast)

You’re lounging on your couch, scrolling through Instagram on your smartphone, and an appealing ad pops up. A new swimsuit that flatters bodies of all shapes and sizes? Why, of course you need that; summer’s coming after all. So you click over and start entering your credit card information, naturally.

But are you sure the site clicked on is not a phishing site? According to PC World, it very well could be, and it’s easy for consumers to fall into that trap. But a mobile security app can keep your handheld device safe from malicious hackers.

Avast Mobile Security is a leading app that lets you surf securely via VPN connection and guards your passwords on both iPhones and Android phones. It will also verify WiFi security when you’re shopping somewhere that’s not your living room. This app’s on the house, too.

Shop it: Avast Mobile Security App, free, avast.com

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