Don’t have time to stop in Best Buy and get a new laptop? Buy it online. Won’t be able to hit the clothing sale at Target? Go on the website. Online shopping offers many benefits. With a couple clicks of a mouse, you can easily view a store’s products and search for what you need. Plus, many stores offer online-only bargains.
However, you should be concerned about the security of your online shopping experience. Hackers use various methods to get you to surrender your credit card information and other personal data. They may hack into your passwords, get you to install malware or access information through your unsecured Wi-Fi connection. But with the dozen tips outlined below, you can protect yourself and enjoy a worry-free shopping experience at your favorite websites.
- Only shop at trusted websites. You can’t go wrong shopping at Amazon or the websites of your favorite retailers, such as Old Navy, Walmart, and Home Depot. Just beware of websites that look the same, but maybe have a different domain name. For example, most retail websites end in .com, so if you see .net or .org attached to a website, it might not be legitimate.
- Use a secure connection. Never shop from an unsecure Wi-Fi connection. That’s an easy way for hackers to access your information. So if you must shop online, do it at home or on secure computer – never at the public library. The website should also have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption so your credit card information stays safe. You can tell if a site has this because the URL will start with https instead of just http. So look for this extra “s,” as well as a padlock in the URL.
- Use protection. Keep your computer protected from viruses and malware by using an anti-virus program. And if you already have anti-virus software, make sure it’s updated regularly and working properly. McAfee, Norton, and Webroot offer exceptional protection and have various packages to meet your needs, especially if you need protection for multiple devices.
- Trust your gut. Before making a purchase from a new shopping site, scan the site and look for anything that stands out as being odd. Are there a lot of misspellings? How is the layout? Does the site look like it was created by a kid? Check the pricing as well. Do the prices of the products look strangely low? Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut, and if a website is giving you bad vibes, don’t shop there. You could be putting your personal information at risk.
- Use a credit card or online payment service. It can be difficult to get your money back should your debit card number be compromised, Plus, since it’s tied to your checking account, a thief can drain all the money you have. By using a credit card, you’re protected in the case of fraud. Just inform your credit card company and they won’t charge you for the purchases you didn’t authorize. PayPal is also recommended, since the retailer never has access to your bank or credit card information. Some online shoppers get a one-time use credit card, so once they use it, it’s gone and thieves can’t keep making purchases.
- Use strong passwords. This goes for your Wi-Fi connection and your online shopping accounts. The longer, the better, and don’t be afraid to mix up letters and numbers (just keep the password in a secret place so you can access it if you forget). This will keep others from accessing your accounts and Internet information.
- Use a mobile device. With a mobile device, you can download the apps for the stores you want to shop at, and just shop through them instead of going onto a website that may or may not be secure.
- Divulge the least amount of information possible. In order to conduct business with you, a company typically only needs three things from you: your mailing address, shipping address, and a payment method (typically a credit card). Be wary if a company asks for additional information, such as a birthdate or Social Security number. The more information they have, the easier it is to steal your identity.
- Check financial statements regularly. Take advantage of the online versions of your banking and credit card statements. Check these regularly (at least once a week) and look for any fraudulent charges. Check your PayPal account as well, since people can hack into those as well.
- Avoid spam. Spam emails may seem interesting, but they’re generated to steal your money. Don’t click any links you may find in spam emails. Simply delete them. If you have a question about whether or not a retailer is legitimate, do a Google search.
- Beware of scams. Thieves will try many things to get you to hand over your credit card number. They may offer you “free” gifts or send emails promising you the multi-million dollar inheritance of deceased royalty if you give them your credit card number to handle the “fees.” You might get an email stating that a friend or family member has been robbed while on vacation and they need money to get back home.
- Be wary of buying gift cards online. You can’t go wrong with a gift card – unless it buy it from a third-party retailer. If you want a gift card, get it from the source. That Amazon gift card on eBay may seem like a steal, but many thieves coerce you to buy these gift cards and they arrive with no funds on them. So be wary of eBay and other sites that sell gift cards. If you really want a gift card from Amazon, get it from Amazon. That’s your safest bet.
Don’t be scared to shop online. While it can be scary to think that you could be making purchases from a fraudulent website, learn to be overly cautious. With the tips above, you can safely shop in the convenience in your home.