There’s every reason in the world to shop online. The bargains are there. The selection is mind-boggling. The shopping is secure. Shipping is fast. Even returns are easy, with the right e-tailers. Shopping has never been easier or more convenient for consumers. And in the age of
From the convenience of one-click ordering to the lure of next-day delivery, online shopping has grown tremendously in the past few years, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. But online shopping isn’t just convenient for us and good for businesses, it’s good business for the fraudsters and cybercriminals. Scammers try to trick us into paying for goods we won’t receive or obtain our personal information for financial gain. So, what can you do about it? It’s important to take steps to protect yourself when shopping online
1. Always place orders from a secure connection
If your computer isn’t protected from potentially malicious software, your financial information and passwords are at risk from being stolen (and everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet only a fraction of the U.S. population adequately protects their computers. Use a secure connection – make sure your computer’s firewall is on.
If you’re shopping online while using a wireless network, it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information. Avoid making any financial transactions when using a public network, as you may not know if it’s compromised.
Start at a trusted site. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off. We all know Amazon.com carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Target to Best Buy to Home Depot. Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, sales on these sites might look enticing, but that’s how they trick you into giving up your info
2. Know the merchant and their reputation
If you already know the store, shopping their online store is very safe. You can always walk into the local store for help if there’s a problem, and if you know others who have had consistently positive experiences with the online store, you can be reassured of the site’s quality.
If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best bet; you just need to take a few more precautions. Conduct your own background check by looking at sites dedicated to reviewing e-stores. If the store isn’t reviewed or does not have favorable reviews, don’t order from their website.
3. Avoid offers that seem “too good to be true”
Any e-store that promises too much at too low a price is suspicious. If the price is too low, consider whether the merchant came by the items legally, if you will ever receive the items you paid for, whether the items are actually the brand shown or a cheap substitute, if the item will work, if you will be able to return damaged goods – or if the merchant is earning extra income by selling your financial information. Disreputable online stores – like their brick and mortar counterparts, may run an absurdly low price offer and then claim the item is out of stock, to try to sell you something else in a classic “bait and switch” scam.
4. If you are buying a Gift Card, read the Terms and Conditions
If the gift card is for someone else, be sure the store is legitimate, that the person uses the store, and that there are no hoops they will have to jump through.
5. Don’t use an e-store that requires more information than necessary to make the sale.
6. Need to create a password for the site? – make it unique.
You will often be asked to create an account with a password when you make a purchase. Usually, you can choose not to do this, and unless you will use the e-store frequently, don’t create an account. If you do want an account, make sure to use a unique and strong password.
Create Strong Passwords
We once asked PCMag readers if they frequently changed their passwords. Eleven percent claimed they did it every day, but those people are either paranoid, liars, or paranoid liars. The vast majority only change a password to protect privacy a few times a year (27 percent) or more likely, never (35 percent).
If you’re going to be like the latter group, we will again beat this dead horse about making sure that you utilize uncrackable passwords. It’s never more important than when banking and shopping online. Our old tips for creating a unique password can come in handy during a time of year when shopping around probably means creating new accounts on e-commerce sites.
Even your perfect password isn’t perfect. The smarter move: use a password manager to create uncrackable passwords for you. It will keep track of them and enter them, so you don’t have to think about it.
7. Is the site secure?
Before entering any personal or credit card info onto a shopping site look to see if the web address on the page begins with “https:”, not “http:” That little ’s’ tells you the website is secure and encrypted to protect your information.
8. Use a Credit Card or PayPal
Do not use a debit card or check as these do not have the same security protections in place for you should a problem arise.
Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime.
Consider designating one credit card that is only for online shopping and transactions. This way, if the card gets compromised, you can quickly shut it down without impacting any other type of transactions.
9. Always check the company’s shipping terms.
Some merchant’s charge exorbitant shipping fees that can turn a shopping bargain into an expensive mistake. Look to see if they provide tracking and insurance. Understand what carriers they use, and be particularly cautious if the item won’t be shipped within 10 days.
10. Use a reliable internet security program.
The best way to stay safe online is still by using an effective internet security product. Shopping is no exception. Rather, with the increasing volume of goods and data being exchanged online, security features like real-time anti-phishing and identity theft protection are more important than ever.