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10 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

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 COVID, it’s safer than going out even if you’re fully masked and gloved. 

You simply need to use some common sense and follow practical advice. Here are basic guidelines; use them and you can shop with confidence.

Use Familiar Websites

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.  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. 

Look for the Lock

Never buy anything online using your credit card from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You’ll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS—instead of just HTTP. An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically to the left of the URL in the address bar or the status bar down below; it depends on your browser. HTTPS is standard now even on non-shopping sites, enough that Google Chrome flags any page without the extra S as “not secure.” So a site without it should stand out even more.

Don’t Overshare

No online shopping e-tailer needs your Social Security number or your birthday to do business. However, if crooks get them and your credit card number, they can do a lot of damage. The more scammers know, the easier it is to steal your identity. When possible, default to giving up as little personal data as possible. Major sites get breached all the time. 

Create Strong Passwords

The vast majority of people 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.

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.

Check Statements Regularly

Don’t wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly, especially during the holiday season, to view electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Look for any fraudulent charges, even originating from payment sites like PayPal and Venmo. (After all, there’s more than one way to get to your money.)

You should definitely only buy online with a credit card. If your debit card is compromised, scammers have direct access to your bank funds.

If you see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, pay the bill only when you know all your charges are accurate.

Inoculate Your Computer

Swindlers don’t sit around waiting for you to give them data; sometimes they give you a little something extra to help things along. You need to protect against malware with regular updates to your antivirus program. Better yet, pay for a full-blown security suite, which will have antivirus software, but also will fight spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites (the latter two try and steal your personal info by mimicking a message or site that looks legit). Remember, it’s not enough to have it installed. Make sure your anti-malware tools are always up to date. Otherwise, they can let in any new threats—and there are always new threats

Privatize Your Wi-Fi

If you’re shopping via a public hotspot, stick to known networks, even if they’re free.  For more, read our Tips for Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Security.

Avoid Shopping in Public

What about using your own laptop to shop while you’re out? It’s one thing to hand over a credit card to get swiped at the checkout, but when you have to enter the credit card number and expiration date and 3-digit code on the back into a  shopping site while sitting in a public cafe, you’re giving an over-the-shoulder snooper plenty of time to see the goods. Think like a gangster: Sit in the back, facing the door. Use sites that you trust that already have your credit card stored, so you don’t have to pull it out for more than a latte. Better yet: stay home when online shopping. 

Think Mobile

There’s no real need to be any more nervous about shopping on a mobile device than online. Simply use apps provided directly by the retailers. Use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly.

Check the Seller

If you’re wary of a site, perform your due diligence. Yelp and Google are full of retailer reviews. Put companies through the wringer before you plunk down your credit card number. There’s a reason that non-delivery/non-payment is the most common cybercrime complaint: it hurts when that happens, financially and emotionally.

If nothing else, make absolutely sure you’ve got a concrete address and a working phone number for the seller. If things go bad, you have a place to take your complaint.

Article By PCMag