Whether it’s kicking off your holiday shopping season with Black Friday/Cyber Monday, or clicking through your last-minute Christmas gift-buying and feeling thankful for rush delivery, online shopping is definitely here to stay.
It’s become such a part of our lives that it’s easy to forget there are always risks involved when you click that “buy” button and send your personal information out into cyber space.
Canceling your credit card and disputing transactions aren’t how anyone wants to spend the holiday season (or any other time of the year, for that matter).
So while you should absolutely hop online to find those perfect gifts for your loved ones, keep these 10 tips for safe online shopping at the forefront of your mind.
1. Stick To Familiar Websites
Whenever possible, start your safe online shopping at a site you know and trust, rather than blindly sticking to search engine results. Many companies buy featured positions within search engine results that can lead you to a scam. The same thing often happens when you wander past the first few pages of search results.
We all know and trust Amazon.com, for instance, and just about every major retail outlet has an online store these days. Keep an eye out for slight misspellings of familiar store names, or sites using a different top-level domain – for example a .net instead of a .com.
2. Be Careful When Shopping on Public Wi-Fi
Are you shopping on your device in public? No problem there—just keep in mind you’ll be on a public Wi-Fi connection, and that comes with a few extra risks if your goal is safe online shopping. If you’re going to make purchases, only use a wireless connection that you access over a virtual private network (VPN) connection.
Don’t end up taking a chance on an unfamiliar hotspot. Whenever possible, stick to known networks, even if they’re free—like those found at Starbucks, for example.
3. Check Your Credit Card Statements Frequently
If you’re like most online shoppers, you’re making an unusually high number of purchases this time of year. It’s important to be especially vigilant about checking your account activity and making sure it’s all legitimate.
Plenty of online theft simply goes unnoticed—or when it is eventually noticed, it’s much more difficult (even impossible) to untangle the mess.
One method to ensure safe online shopping is to turn on notifications to alert you each time purchases are made with your card or a store-specific online account.
At the very least, check your transactions online or credit card statement as soon as it’s available.
4. Use Strong Passwords
These days, virtually any retailer will prompt you to create a password that’s secure—it’s one of those safe online shopping basics.
And coming up with a secure password isn’t difficult at all: make sure it’s at least eight characters (the longer, the better) and use a combination of capital letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Make sure it would be difficult to guess.
It can be difficult to remember passwords for every single website, but it’s still best to avoid reusing the same ones. Services like iCloud Keychain and 1Password can help you remember your passwords for each website. They encrypt your passwords for storage, and let you unlock all your passwords with one secure access code.
5. Make Sure The Website Is Secure
Before you type your card details into a website, don’t forget to make sure that site is secure. Double-check that you can see the small padlock symbol in the address bar (or elsewhere in your browser window) and that the web address begins with “https://” – the s stands for ‘secure’.
6. For Safe Online Shopping, Use a Quality Anti-Malware Program
This one may sound obvious and even a little old-school. But too many people still ignore the advice to install anti-malware software.
Safe online shopping means taking the time to secure your PC from viruses and other attacks by keeping your security program’s virus and malware signatures up-to-date. Most programs can automatically update these signatures, so be sure the automatic updating feature is enabled in your software.
Viruses constantly change and mutate, but the latest programs are designed to detect newly created or mutated threats even before the automatic updates have the chance. It’s worth doing your homework for the peace of mind alone.
7. Using Your Mobile Device? Download the Store’s App
If you’re about to load up your online shopping cart using your smartphone, check and see if the store’s got an app you can use instead.
Store-specific apps like those for Amazon, Target, etc. are becoming more popular than ever. Use them to find exactly what you’re looking for and make the purchase without ever visiting the site. When you bypass the website, your goal of safe online shopping becomes much more attainable.
8. Supply Limited Personal Information
This one’s simple: you’ll never need to answer security or privacy questions when you’re simply making an online purchase. If the website you’re buying from asks you for this information, see if you can checkout as a guest instead. If not, leave the site!
9. Don’t Purchase Gift Cards From Third Parties
Did you know that gift cards are the most requested holiday gift each year? It’s a versatile and popular gift, but make sure you stick to the source when you buy them. A very common scam is to auction off gift cards on sites like eBay—then they arrive to their recipients loaded with zero funds.
10. Use a Credit Card For Online Purchases
Whenever possible, use a credit card for safe online shopping and avoid using your debit card. When you use your debit card, that money is gone immediately—and it can be very difficult to get it back.
Your credit card company, on the other hand, is far more likely to be in your corner and advocate for you if fraudulent charges appear on your statement or there are other problems with your card.
Online shopping has opened up a whole new way to find the perfect gift for your loved ones, from anywhere in the world. Holiday shopping has never been so convenient or fun! Just remember to take a few extra moments to make sure you’re shopping smart.
Happy Holidays & Happy Shopping!