The rapid expansion of online shopping certainly makes our lives easier, but the truth is that we also grow less alert to potential cyber threats while enjoying this comfort. Let's get one thing clear – there are far more cyber crimes linked to online shopping than most shoppers would like to know about. But don't worry – as long as you keep it safe, you can still enjoy shopping from the comfort of your home. Here are 5 tips to help you protect your critical data while shopping online.

1. Remember about SSL encryption

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and it's basically a type of encryption, a security technology which makes sure that sensitive information (think credit card data) is transmitted securely through a website. A website that contains a SSL encryption starts with https://. It also has a padlock next to the URL. Do not shop or give personal information to a site that doesn't have SSL.

Internet phishing is a real threat these days, so if you don't want your identity or data stolen, make sure that the URL of the website where you're making a purchase is protected by SSL. Never share your credit card information with unprotected websites.


2. Avoid insecure Wi-Fi hotspots

Every corner of your city is full of open Wi-Fi networks. You can use them for browsing, but avoid making purchases while connected to this type of networks. They can be extremely insecure and people might be lurking around just waiting to intercept your private information.

With many people connected to a network at the same time, it would be next to impossible to determine who was responsible for stealing your identity. Don't risk it – just wait until you get home and shop with peace of mind.

Also, if you're using a public computer, avoid entering your credit card details – if you fail to erase this data, the next user might easily take advantage of your forgetfulness.


3. Come up with strong passwords

Even if it seems like a good idea to use the same password for every single platform where you set up an account, just don't do it. Instead, create strong passwords with a mix of numbers, letters and special characters. You need them to protect your data. If you're afraid you might forget your passwords, use a service like LastPass.


4. Consider using Virtual Private Networks

VPNs are just great when you're shopping on open Wi-Fi or abroad. Virtual private networks are able to scramble all the traffic that your computer sends and receives so it becomes unreadable to other parties. You'll also become invisible to other users connected to the same network.

There are lots of VPS services on the market right now – here's one comprehensive VPN reviews on Secure Thoughts blog. Take your time to do proper research and you're bound to find a VPN that has all the features you need and keeps you secure while shopping.


5. Check your bank statements on a regular basis

Finally, take a look at your bask statements from time to time. Sure, it's not nice to be doing that with fraudulent charges in mind, but you have to check it. Even if you take all the precautions, it's still important to regularly look at your statements to make sure that none of your information has been stolen or strange charges made to your account.

Cyber criminals often make small purchases before putting some major charges on your account – spotting them early on, you stand a chance at beating them at their own game.

Follow these tips and you'll be on your way to protecting yourself from potential data theft that might occur when you're sharing information while shopping online.