Shopping online can be fun, fast, and convenient, and opens up so many new possibilities to find sales, bargains, and exclusive items you otherwise wouldn’t be able to find in local brick-and-mortar retail stores.
But despite the many benefits of online shopping, there are still some risks associated with buying goods and services on the Internet. If you fail to take the right precautions, online shopping can result in identity theft, the purchase of faulty or knock-off products, and exposure to other cyber-crimes that can compromise your security and privacy.
Don’t let the risks of online shopping affect your ability to browse and shop the Web freely. Here are 10 tips that can help you shop and buy wisely on the Internet.
1. Visit Trusted Websites
Make purchases from reliable websites you know and trust. Most major retailers have dedicated websites that offer customers a safe, private shopping experience. Confirm that the websites you’re visiting are spelled correctly, and are using top-level domains such as “.com” instead of “.net.”
2. Protect Your Personal Information
Beware of sites that ask for sensitive personal information that isn’t required to make a purchase, such as your Social Security Number, birth date, and driver’s license number. Only complete required fields at checkout, and go to another site if you feel uncomfortable providing certain information.
3. Buy from Secure Websites
Secure websites begin with “https://” instead of “http://,” and normally feature a padlock icon in the address bar of your browser. This ensures that the payment information you enter is secure and encrypted, which prevents cyber-thieves from stealing your personal data.
4. Use Strong Passwords
Strong passwords help prevent cyber-criminals from accessing your personal information and credit card numbers to make unauthorized purchases. Use as many characters as possible when creating new passwords, and try to use a different password for every online shopping website you visit.
5. Avoid Using Public Computers
Public computers, such as those at libraries and internet cafes, are accessed by several people throughout the course of the day, and may be set up to save your personal data by default. Shop online using your personal computer whenever possible, and take extra care to delete browser history, cache, and cookies when using a public computer.
6. Review All Website Policies
Thoroughly review all website policies, and steer clear of sites that don’t honor positive return and refund policies. Websites with great reputations such as Amazon, Walmart, and eBay all offer great return and refund policies for customers. This helps prevent you from getting stuck with faulty and fraudulent products from deceptive retailers.
7. Ignore Referral Links
Many scammers bait shoppers by providing fake links to retail stores in spam emails and text messages. Instead of redirecting users to official websites, these links take users to fraudulent websites that pose as the real thing. Avoid clicking on referral links sent to you via email or text, and always examine the website’s URL in your address bar to confirm you’re visiting the official site.
8. Keep Your Computer Clean and Updated
Run updated security software on your computer at all times to help prevent viruses and malware, and install the latest updates for software and apps you use regularly — especially those integrated with online shopping. Failing to keep your computer clean and updated can result in identity theft.
9. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Public wireless networks are popular stomping grounds for cyber-thieves, who can attack these hotspots and steal your login credentials, financial information, and more. Only shop using a private Wi-Fi network, and avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops, libraries, and airports.
10. Check Statements for Fraudulent Charges
Take advantage of online banking to check for unauthorized charges in the days following online purchases. Look for extra charges, or charges for amounts you didn’t approve. Contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately to resolve fraudulent charges so that you’re not liable for extra costs later down the road.
Shopping online doesn’t have to be scary! As long as you educate yourself about online shopping safety and take the necessary precautions, you can shop right from the comfort of your home without any added risks.