Shopping online is convenient and affordable but also full of potential dangers. While shopping for the best price and quickest shipping, hackers could track you, ready to grab your personal and financial information. As you shop online, it's important to do all you can to protect yourself. Follow the steps below to ensure that your online safety is not compromised.
Before You Start Shopping, Make Sure You . . .
1. Update Your Browser and Anti-Virus Software
The first step to ensuring your online safety may be the easiest and most important tip. Up-to-date browsers have the latest security protocols in place. Antivirus software also needs to be updated. Only shop online if both of these are in place
2. Are Purchasing from a Trusted Site
If you don’t know the business you’re shopping with, research before buying. The Better Business Bureau and TRUSTe are great places to start. Look for these organizations' seals, then double-check that they are verified through these sites. If these tools don’t give you the information you need, Google the company and the word “scam” to see if anything pops up from past shoppers.
3. Use a Secure Internet Connection
While shopping online, use a secure internet connection with an enabled firewall. While you might think you're protected, know that just an antivirus program alone isn't enough. You'll also want a firewall to protect you from hackers.
Similarly, check the website to ensure it's secure and displays https:// in the address bar. If you're shopping through a wireless network, use an encrypted network. Never make financial transactions on a public network, like your local coffee shop, since you don't know how safe it is
4. Use a Secure Internet Connection
When shopping online, you should share specific things, including:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Payment method
In rare instances, such as if your purchase is for something that is age-restricted, you may need to share your birthday. Anything else, like your driver's license or Social Security number, and you need to walk away. Give as little data as possible and only what is absolutely necessary to complete the purchase.
5. Create Strong and Unique Passwords
If you're in the habit of using the same password or variations of the same password from multiple sites, your online safety could be at risk. If one site gets hacked, the hacker can access the rest. Create unique passwords for each site and make them strong by using random strings of characters. Use a password management tool to keep track of each one.
6. Buy from Known and Reputed Sellers
We have all been there, scrolling on our phones, and an ad with some great stuff at super low prices pops up. TEMPTING! But with regards to online safety, not only do you need to ensure the website is trustworthy, but you also need to ensure the seller is. If you aren't familiar with the company or site you are shopping, look up their online reputation to ensure they are legitimate. Otherwise, stick with retailers or sellers you know.
7. Pay with a Card
Paying with a debit or credit card may provide some built-in fraud protection and helps with our goal of online safety. In contrast, if you pay through Western Union, Venmo, or another transfer process, you may not be able to get your money back if you're scammed. Use your credit card statement to check for unapproved online purchases as well. If you can't use a credit or debit card, consider Zelle®, which offers similar protections.
8. Keep Track of Your Online Purchase
Once you have made your online purchases, your task is not fully complete. After you make a purchase, tracking your purchase is just as important. Know when it's shipped and where it is between when you buy it and when you get it in your hands. This may be a red flag if the tracking looks off or delayed.
9. Review the Return and Refund Policies
Nothing is more disappointing than receiving an item you purchased online and realizing it is different from what you wanted. Then you have the added hassle of returning your purchases. Ensure you can return the item if it doesn't work for you. A quality website and online shop will have fair return and refund policies, and one that's trying to scam you by sending shoddy items will not.
That’s a long list of things to check, but each of these can give you insight into the trustworthiness of your online store. Here’s what to look for:
- Returns and Cancellation Policies – Make sure you can get your money back.
- Complaint Handling Policy – Do they have a plan for dealing with potential complaints?
- Payment Option – Do they take payment you’re comfortable using?
- Shipping – Don’t get scammed by inflated shipping rates.
Check other online store details to ensure you are visiting a reputable company.
11. File a Complaint Immediately If You Do Get Scammed
Everyone is at risk for online safety problems. If you do get scammed, don't wait. File a complaint with the company, but if that doesn't get you somewhere, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also file a complaint with your bank or credit card to attempt to recover some of your money.