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Keeping Safe From Cybercriminals When Making Online Transactions

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By: Nihad Hassan

May 14, 2021

As the digital transformation continues steadily to enter all life aspects, a growing number of internet users are choosing to purchase products/services and pay their bills online. Since the start of the COVID19 pandemic, the world has witnessed a massive increase in digital technology adoption in work, study, life, entertainment, and social activities. For instance, a survey - of about 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies - conducted by UNCTAD found that more than half of the survey's respondents now shop online more frequently.

There are many reasons to be conscious when making online payments; online fraud is increasing rapidly, especially since the COVID19 outbreak of 2020. Statista surveyed fraud examiners worldwide and found a global increase in online fraud risk since the coronavirus outbreak as of August 2020. Additionally, 60% of the survey responders predict that online fraud activities will increase significantly during this year (2021).

This article will suggest essential tips to make safe online transactions.

Tips for safe online transactions

The following lists nine safety tips for safe online transactions:

  1. Install security solutions such as antivirus and make sure to keep them up-to-date. Many antivirus programs offer free limited versions. Although it lacks the paid version's additional features, installing a basic version is better than nothing. Installing a firewall is also recommended;(see Figure 1).
alt_text Figure 1 - Comodo firewall - the free version
  1. Keep the operating system, all installed applications, including any virtual operating system, up-to-date. Cybercriminals try to exploit vulnerabilities in victim device software to gain unauthorized access or to plant malware. Keeping the OS and software current will significantly lower the risk of compromise. If the device runs Windows, make sure the auto-update feature is turned on (in Windows 10, it is turned on by default). You can also use a software updater program to help you perform the update task automatically; Patch My PC is an example software updater.

  2. Make sure a secure connection is established by checking the web browser address bar, and ensure the visited website begins with https (see Figure 2). Some web browsers do not display the full URL in the address bar. To display the full URL in Google Chrome, right-click in the Chrome's address bar and select "Always show full URLs."

alt_text Figure 2 – Use secure connection – S should appear after the http
  1. Check for the padlock symbol in the address bar next to the website address (see Figure 3). Most commonly, if the padlock is in gray, this means the website is secure.
alt_text Figure 3 - Padlock symbol means the website you are visiting is secure website
  1. If you are dealing with a website you've not used before, search for it first. Reputable websites such as Amazon do not need to be researched first. However, if you are dealing with an online retailer for the first time, you should carefully check if it is a scam or a fraudulent website. Many signs distinguish legitimate websites from the non-legit:

a. Check where you find the online store URL, for example, via an email message sent from a stranger, social media post, or through a search engine.

b. Check domain name history; reliable websites are mostly old. Do not deal with a website whose age is days or few months.

c. Check the website's looks and design. Legitimate websites often hire a specialized web development firm to create their web presence. Avoid dealing with websites that have poor design and suffer from grammatical mistakes in their text.

d. Check the website if it has a trust seal—this feature authenticates the visited website by a reliable third-party provider who assures this website's legitimacy. An example of a trust seal provider is GlobalSign's SSL Secure Site Seal (see Figure 4). alt_text Figure 4 - GlobalSign Site Seal

  1. Use strong passwords to protect online accounts. A password should contain at least 11 alphanumeric characters, both upper and lower, and at least one symbol. Remembering a complex password can be somewhat tricky. However, things become worse when a user needs to create a new password for each online account. Password managers solve this problem by helping users create complex passwords and store them in an encrypted database. An example of a good, reliable, and free password manager is KeePass.

  2. Pay using a credit card or Paypal, as you will have more protection offered by your bank.

  3. Do not make online payments using public computers (e.g., library, coffee shop, or shopping centers). A malicious actor could install a keylogger on such public devices.

  4. Do not use public Wi-Fi connection; an adversary can monitor public access points to intercept the user's transmitted data. Using a VPN is strongly recommended.


Internet users increasingly choose to pay online for their purchases. The ongoing pandemic affects consumer behavior significantly towards buying products/services online. This article introduces the main essential tips to make your online payment journey more secure.

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