Online Shopping Safety: 7 Tips to Keep You Safe for the Holidays

Online shopping is efficient, convenient, and, unfortunately, potentially risky. From fake websites to unsecured connections to hackers stealing personal info, putting your financial information out there can be dicey.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, identity thieves and hackers will double down on their efforts to take advantage of online sales. They’ll try to scam people into making bogus purchases or sharing sensitive personal information online.

Online Shopping Diagram

We want you to feel safe and confident that your information is protected, so we’ve put together our top tips for safe online shopping.

Tip #1: Look for the https://

The first step to safe online shopping is using legit, secure websites. To check a site’s security, first look at the address bar. Is there an https:// before the website address or just an http://? The s stands for secure and indicates that the website has an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which means the site encrypts any information entered into the website before it leaves the site.

Secure Site Padlock

Many internet browsers also have a small padlock next to the address bar for secure sites. They may even highlight the address in green if it’s secure (or red if it’s not). Never give out personal or financial information on a website without an SSL certificate—it’s not worth the risk!

Double-check a site’s security
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Most browsers display small logos in the address bar that indicate which security certifications they have, like DigiCert, Verisign, Symantec, or Norton. (Many websites have more than one.) If you click the logo, a new window or tab should open with details about the website’s security. If the logo is just a picture and not a button, that’s a red flag!

Tip #2: Do your research

An SSL certificate isn’t a guarantee that a website is on the up-and-up, so do a little research before shopping on unfamiliar domains.

  • Read user reviews to verify that others have had positive experiences with the company.
  • Research the reputation of the seller through customer review sites like the Better Business Bureau.
  • Make sure the site has multiple ways to contact the business (phone, email, online chat, physical address). You can even ask a question and see how quickly you get a response.
  • If the company has a well-known app, make use of it. (Amazon, Target, Walmart, Etsy, and eBay all have apps, to name a few.) Just be sure to download the app from the company’s verified site.
  • Review the privacy policy to learn how your information will be used. Not having a visible privacy policy is a sign that there’s a problem.
  • Pay attention to the kinds of information required at checkout. Retailers don’t need your Social Security number or birth date to complete online transactions. If a retail site asks for either of those things, it’s probably an identity theft

If you think you might be looking at a fake website, it’s best to steer clear. And even when you buy from familiar sites, reread the shipping information and return policies carefully so you know what to expect if something goes wrong.

Hang on to your proof of purchase
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Always save a copy of the confirmation page after you make a purchase—either through printing the page or taking a screenshot. And don’t forget to get a tracking number for shipping!

Tip #3: Don’t make purchases over a public Wi-Fi connection

When you use an open or unsecured network, anyone with the right know-how can potentially see your device. They might sneak a peek at the info you send retailers, including your name, address, and credit card details.

You should have protections in place for your private Wi-Fi network at home, but public Wi-Fi is often unsecured. Avoid shopping online while using free public Wi-Fi or a hotspot.

It’s safer to use data to shop from your phone or another mobile device rather than using public Wi-Fi.¹ If you absolutely need to connect over Wi-Fi, use your phone as a hotspot rather than using an unsecured connection.

Watch your screen in public
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Be mindful of where you are and who can see your screen when you’re out and about. It’s easy for someone to look over your shoulder and copy your credit card number, so be vigilant.

Tip #4: Stick with secure payment methods

For safe online shopping, use only payment types that have insurance against fraud. Never use websites that ask for money orders, wire transfers, or checks. Credit cards or PayPal are safer because they generally come with protection against identity theft and fraudulent activity.

Parents, keep an eye out
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Make sure your children don’t have access to your credit card information. You can avoid unexpected charges by turning off purchasing in apps. You can also require authentication before making purchases on devices that your kids often use.

A debit card is a no-no for online shopping.

Debit cards are a no-no because once the money’s pulled from your checking account, you’re unlikely to recover it or be fully reimbursed. With credit cards, though, you can dispute any charges.

If the thought of sharing your credit card information with retailers doesn’t sit right with you, look into a virtual card. If your bank offers these, you can get a randomly generated card number that’s less connected to you than your regular credit card. For best results, change the virtual credit card number frequently.

However you choose to approach online shopping, check your statements often. That way, if something’s amiss, you’ll know right away.

Tip #5: Keep your antivirus software updated

Your first line of defense against malicious websites, emails, and downloads is to keep your antivirus software up to date. Make sure that you have antivirus software and malware protection installed on all your devices—don’t skip this step!

Don’t wait to install updates; take care of any threat alerts right away. We recommend using one of the top antivirus software programs for the best protection.

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Don’t forget to update
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Always install hardware and firmware updates whenever they’re available. Turn on automatic updates for your computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices to make it easier.

Tip #6: Use a password manager

Passwords protect a lot of sensitive information, but reusing the same passwords for multiple accounts or creating weak passwords puts your data at a greater risk of theft.

Use a password manager to proactively protect your information from hackers. Password managers make it easier to save long, complicated passwords and sync them across all your devices so you don’t have to remember them all. Password managers use some of the highest levels of encryption to make sure your information stays protected, no matter which websites you visit.

Save passwords securely

If you have a lot of accounts across the internet, look for a password manager that offers a bulk password changing feature. This feature will save you a ton of time and hassle when it’s time to update your passwords.

As an added security measure, many password managers require two-factor authentication.

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Tip #7: Protect yourself against identity theft

There’s some information you might be required to provide when online shopping, like your email or phone number. And you’ll always have to give retail websites a form of payment.

No matter how careful you are, there’s still a chance this information can be stolen or compromised. An identity theft protection service will monitor your information, provide insurance against costly identity theft charges, and alert you right away if something changes or seems wrong.

Some basic identity theft services are free, but we recommend the more robust and comprehensive coverage of a subscription service.

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Keep an eye out for fraud
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Always go through your monthly bank account and credit card statements to make sure everything looks right. If you see an unfamiliar charge, investigate immediately—the sooner you report fraudulent charges, the more likely they are to be resolved.

Shop smart to have fun

Remember to use trusted sources, check for security updates regularly, and look for that https:// before entering your financial information anywhere. Armed with this information and with safety measures in place, you’ll be prepared to protect yourself online while still enjoying the perks of shopping from your couch.

Shopping Online

Contributing author: Kate Herrick