10 Things You Can Do to be Safer When Shopping Online:
I like the convenience of shopping online: no waiting for a turn, no need to drive or find parking; I can comparison shop for the best value, and many sites offer free shipping and free returns, and the stores are always open. Done safely and securely, what’s not to like?
Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize the need for safety and security when shopping online. There are two key factors that determine your level of safety when shopping or conducting any financial transaction online: the first is how well you secure your computing environment; the second is how savvy you are at identifying scams vs. legitimate offers. Crooks are counting on you to fail in one of these areas.
10 simple steps will help you have positive, safer online shopping experiences:
- Secure your computers and smartphones with anti-virus and anti-spyware – Keep them current and use them unfailingly-as automatically as locking your door when you leave the house. If your computer or phone isn’t protected, your financial information, passwords and identity will be stolen. This concept is so basic, yet only 20% of the US population adequately protects their computers.
- Secure your internet connection – Make sure your computer’s firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information. If you need a free firewall, search online for ‘best free firewall’.
- Don’t use public WiFi hotspots for financial transactions – Never log onto sensitive sites (banking, shopping…) from an unsecured connection you don’t know what malware may be lurking on it.
- Trust is key. Know the merchant – or their reputation
- If you know the retail chain, shopping their online store is pretty safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help. Similarly, if you know others who have had consistently positive experiences with the online store, you can be reassured of the site’s quality.
- If you don’t know the store, it may still be a good choice; you just need to take a few more precautions. Conduct your own background check by looking at sites dedicated to reviewing e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, or the Better Business Bureau)
- Avoid any e-store that promises too much at too low a price. If the price is low, you have to consider whether the merchant came by the items legally, whether you will ever receive the items, whether the items will work, if you will be able to return damaged goods, or if the merchant is also generating revenue by selling your financial information. Disreputable stores frequently run an absurdly low price offer and then, claiming the item is out of stock, try to sell you something else; a classic “bait and switch” technique.
- Don’t navigate to a store by clicking on links in online ads, unsolicited emails, on social networking sites or anywhere else – It can be very difficult to tell if a link will take you to the site you intend to visit, or a malicious site designed to fool you into giving away your information. Find the correct website yourself using a search engine, the extra 30 seconds of effort will save you from identity theft misery.
- Need a Password? – Make it Unique - Creating strong memorable passwords is easy and can actually be fun – and the payoff in increased safety is big. The key aspects of a strong password are length (the longer the better); a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols; and no tie to your personal information.
- Does the merchant want more information than is necessary to complete the sale? If you purchase something, you will need to provide some method of payment, your address, and a telephone number or email so the store can contact you if there are issues. If the merchant requests your bank account information, social security information, or driver’s license number, NEVER provide it. Some reputable companies ask additional questions about your interests. These should always be optional and you should avoid providing responses.
- Make sure the site is secure – before entering any personal or credit card info
- Use Your Credit Card – never Debit Card, Check, Cashier’s Check, Wire Transfer, or Money order – or use a well-respected payment service like PayPal – Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime.
- Check your credit reports and consider putting a freeze on your accounts – Block ID thieves from opening new accounts under your name by freezing or blocking access to your credit files. - Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to one free credit disclosure in every 12-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies. Or, you can pay for credit monitoring services that will immediately alert you to any suspicious activity or changes in your credit scores.
The key to successful online shopping is being careful – getting your ID stolen, having your computer infected, or getting ripped off is no bargain.