Online shopping has a lot of perks: you can save money, avoid hordes of people at the mall, and stay in your sweatpants, to name a few. But taking advantage of cyber deals also carries risks, which you should be aware of to make sure you stay safe while shopping online. Here are some tips for smart internet shopping to help you stay safe and get your orders delivered without a fuss.
1. Know How to Spot a Scam
It’s important to recognize when a website is fake, as scammers often impersonate legitimate companies’ websites to try and lure you into “ordering” with them. Always check the domain of the site—a fake website may appear legitimate in terms of design and function, but a bogus web address will give it away. Spelling and grammar mistakes or special offers that seem too good to be true are also major red flags.
2. Keep Your Personal Information Secure
Identity theft is a reality for 15 million unsuspecting online shoppers each year in the United States. Always check that sites you’re shopping on have a lock icon in the status bar—this symbol means you’re visiting a securely encrypted website. You should also change your passwords regularly, keep them strong, and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks to access your financial information online and other sensitive information.
3. Check Your Card Statements Regularly
If fraudulent activity occurs on your account, it’s important to catch it as soon as possible. Check credit and debit card statements frequently, along with any other financial accounts, like PayPal. If you spot anything unusual, call your bank immediately to alert them to the problem. You shouldn’t be held liable for any fraudulent charges as long as the charge happened less than 30 days previous.
4. Use Familiar Websites and Apps
Relying on search engines can take your online shopping trip in unexpected, potentially hazardous directions, so when in doubt, stick with sites you know you can trust. You can also download the apps for your favorite online retailers, such as Amazon, which will keep your transactions secure. Avoid making online purchases in public locations, because shared Wi-Fi networks can be unsecure and people nearby could have less-than-virtuous motives.
5. Be Wary of Suspicious Emails
Scammers often impersonate legitimate companies to try to obtain your personal information. For example, you may get an email that appears to be from PayPal saying something like, “Your Account Has Been Limited,” with a link to log in to your account; but when you look at who actually sent the email (which may require an extra click on the sender’s name, in this case “PayPal Support”), it’s from a random email address you’ve never heard of. Never log in to accounts from email links, even when it seems fine. It’s safer to go straight to the site and log in from there if there are any problems with your account.
6. Keep Your Computer’s Protection Updated
Regardless of what you’re doing online, make sure your computer has up-to-date security software enabled, including antivirus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. In other words, don’t procrastinate restarting your computer so it can make those updates it’s been bugging you about for weeks—you need them.
7. Consider Investing in Identity Theft Protection
Though smart online shopping safety practices certainly lessen the likelihood of you becoming a victim of identity theft, fraud can happen despite your best efforts to prevent it. Identity theft protection gives you another layer of security by monitoring your accounts, alerting you of unusual activity, and insuring you against financial damage. Many identity theft protection services will give you a free trial to test out the service, and you can cover yourself for the price of a few cups of coffee each month. Check out what’s available and see if identity theft protection services could keep you safe.
There are risks to be aware of when online shopping, but if you stick to the safety tips listed above, it’s unlikely you’ll fall prey to a scam. Just keep your eyes open when navigating the web and don’t be afraid to exit any sites you’re not familiar with. Happy shopping!