Last updated: July 6, 2019
Online Shopping: The Quick Guide to Staying Safe
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The holiday season is upon us! And that means most of us will turn to the internet to find the perfect gifts for our loved ones. Online shopping is convenient. It allows you to avoid crowds, get items shipped straight to your home, and in some cases, save money.
Even though it's convenient, however, online shopping also bears an inherent risk. You need to be careful. To help you shop safely online, here are our best tips.
Online Shopping Tips
- Use trusted websites: unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of Amazon and know that it carries almost everything you could ever possibly want. The same goes for Walmart. If you prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar retailer, pretty much every one has its own online store. The best thing to do rather than entering a domain name directly is to let Google or another search engine help you. Enter the name of the company into the search engine. That way, you will find that actual store. It's easy enough to mistype jcpenny.com as jvpenny.com, which will take you to a different website. By doing so, you are most likely to end up where you want to. Some sites with similar domain names pose as familiar stores, only with a barely noticeable typos in the name. Sites like these can have very attractive offers but be nothing more than scams designed to steal your money or your whole identity.
- Do your research: if you're using a new site that came recommended to you by a friend or a relative, do your research first. Enter the "site name + reviews" or "site name + scam" into a search engine and go through the results to see if anything suspicious pops up. If you see a lot of negative reviews or scam reports, stay away, no matter what your friends or relatives say.
- Know what you're ordering: carefully read the item's description and any reviews to ensure the item really is what you think it is. Problems often occur just because the buyer doesn't take the time to read the item's description carefully.
- Be careful with email: often, scammers will try to trick you into clicking a link by sending an email that looks like it came from a well-trusted site. It's best to avoid clicking on those links and to double check the email address it came from. See our video Email Spam By the Numbers.
- Protect your personal information: take note of the information being collected during checkout. Entering your name, address, and credit card information is necessary. But revealing your Social Security Number or date of birth shouldn't be a requirement when you are making a simple purchase.
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards: if at all possible, use credit cards for your online purchases because you can easily reverse the charges if the product isn't delivered or isn't what you ordered.
- Read the return policies: make sure to read through the return policies and terms of service so you know what to expect and avoid potential problems after the purchase has been completed.
- Look for the padlock: no matter what site you're using, be sure there is a padlock in the address bar and that the address starts with HTTPS and not simply HTTP. This ensures your financial information is being sent over an encrypted connection and hackers have far less chances of stealing your information.
- Double check your statements: most of us nowadays use online banking, so don't wait until the end of the month to check your charges. Make sure there are no fraudulent or extra charges that shouldn't be there. If something seems off, don't hesitate to get in touch with the seller and with your bank to resolve any potential issues.
- Watch out for shipping fees: double check all your shipping charges and use the shipping calculator to make an estimate. If an item is being shipped from overseas, double check to see if you will be required to pay the import fees.
- Avoid WiFi hotspots: avoid using open public WiFi connections not only for online shopping but for logging into your email or online banking accounts. Also: adjust the security settings on your devices to limit access to your phones and tablets.
Basic Safety Practices
- Use antivirus software: no matter what device or how many devices you're using, make sure you have antivirus software installed and always up to day. And keep all your other software and apps up to date.
- Lock down your accounts: consider using an additional method of authentication for your most important online accounts. There are many systems that seem like a hassle but they significantly reduce your chances of getting hacked. These include two-factor authentication, one time login codes, security keys, or biometrics.
- Use strong and unique passwords: a strong password contains at least 12 characters including a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as special characters. Consider using a password manager to help you generate strong a unique passwords for each and every online account. Check out our infographic, How to Create the Perfect Password.
- Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true: some less-than-reputable sites will try to tempt you to make a purchase by offering a "free" product with the purchase. Usually, it's the latest hot item to hit the market. But in reality, it's a cleverly designed scam. Keep your card and bank account safe by steering clear of such offers.
Here are some resources that will help you learn more about online safety:
- How to Spot a Fake Website: learn how to spot a fake website and avoid getting scammed or worse, having your identity stolen.
- The World Wide Web and Internet Privacy: a good overview of what kind of information you need to keep safe. It includes 16 great resources for protecting yourself.
- Online Scams and Fraud: recognize the most common online frauds and learn how you can protect yourself by minimizing your exposure.
- The Growing Threat of Digital Extortion — And How to Avoid It: digital extortion can happen to anyone. This article will show you how to minimize the risk and even avoid it altogether.
Stay Safe While Online Shopping
Unfortunately, there are many bad people on the internet who would love nothing more than to gain access to your bank account. Online shopping provides them a great opportunity. But, by educating yourself and employing the tips and advice listed above, your online shopping experience should be smooth and safe.