At this point, we are all familiar with the convenience and advantages of online shopping. Buying online means shopping whenever we want, avoiding crowded stores, easily comparing prices, and then having our selection delivered right to our front door. Seems like the perfect way to make a purchase, right?
Well, like most things in life, online shopping is not 100% risk-free. However, by becoming aware of the potential dangers of online shopping and taking steps to protect yourself you can ensure a safer experience. Below we outline some practical tips about the safest ways to buy online.
Shop online with trusted retailers
Where you would shop IRL is a good place to start shopping online, too. It’s a good idea to stick to these trusted brands as you know their brand and inventory are real. However, scammers can be uncannily good at making look-alike websites so make sure you’ve landed on the retailer’s official page. Watch out for a misspelled name or a URL that is slightly off.
If you are purchasing online with an unknown brand, do some digging around before you buy – especially if the retailer is offering sensational deals. To evaluate if a retailer is legitimate you can take several things into account. See if they have a social media following or search for customer reviews. It’s also important to check the retailer’s contact details as well as the terms and conditions. Often, all you need to do is quickly Google the retailer’s name together with the word “experiences”. If a shop is not legit, you’ll see loads of warnings in the search results – or suspiciously no results at all.
Only shop from secure websites
When you shop online make sure you do so only on secure sites, which you can tell by looking at the URL. Secure websites will have a URL address that begins with https://( instead of https://). The little padlock icon in your browser’s address bar should be closed. By clicking or double-clicking on the lock you can see the site’s security details. For example, you’ll be able to see if the site has a valid certificate and who has registered the site. Do not buy from a shop if there is a warning about the site’s certificate!
How to pay securely when shopping online
When it comes to making online purchases, some payment methods are safer than others. For starters, it’s more secure to pay with a credit card than a debit card. Credit card companies generally offer customers much better liability protection if something were to go wrong. Or, you can use a third-party payment service like PayPal as this allows you to pay without giving the merchant your actual credit card information directly.
If something strange happens during the payment process act immediately. For example, if you suddenly lose the connection and an error message appears, tell the retailer and your bank first before trying to complete the purchase again. To be extra careful, especially when purchasing expensive items, it’s good to document each step. Print out the product description, the order confirmation, the terms and conditions, and any other relevant documents and keep them in a safe place.
Basic ways you can protect yourself while online shopping
The first way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re on a secure device. Start by checking if your browser is up to date. Cybercriminals often exploit software bugs and unpatched vulnerabilities to access personal data. It’s also a good idea to install antivirus software to safeguard against malware. Some, like Avira Free Security, have multiple layers of protection including anti-scam and browser safety features.
Second, use strong, unique passwords for each account you create. Never use the same password for multiple accounts and avoid using combinations that could be easy to figure out like your birthday or zip code. You can use a password manager to come up with unhackable passwords and remember them for you. For more security, setting up two-factor authentication is also recommended.
Lastly, if you are shopping while logged in to public Wi-Fi you might want to hold off purchasing until you are back on your secured home network. Hackers often lurk on open, unsecured networks and you don’t want to risk exposing sensitive information like passwords or credit card details. If you often shop online while out and about start using a VPN.. This way your online activities will be anonymized and encrypted, and safe from snoopers.
Following these basic rules and tips should give you the confidence to shop online safely. For even more helpful advice check out this article.