There are still many great reasons to shop in person at a store—immediacy, the option to see things with your own eyes, supporting local retailers. But the reality is that online shopping is now more prevalent than in-store shopping—we passed that tipping point in 2019.
Online shopping is obviously convenient, but online shopping and security don’t always go hand in hand. From data theft and malware attacks to fake online reviews and counterfeit goods, there are risks when you shop online.
Fortunately, there are easy precautions you can take before making your purchase to enhance online shopping security. Here’s a look at nine tips for safe online shopping.
Reputable online retailers have strong security systems, so stick with companies you trust and have shopped with before. These sites — think Amazon, Target, Home Depot — have customer service information readily available. If you can easily find the website’s refund and exchange policies, that’s another sign that it’s a safe online shopping site.
Be wary of new retailers you find through search engines, especially if they’re not on the first page of results. Sometimes scammers create fake businesses just to get your credit card information and other personal details. You might be able to order something, but there was never an inventory to begin with, so nothing ever shows up at your doorstep. According to the FBI’s 2018 Internet Crime Report, the No. 1 cybercrime is nonpayment or nondelivery of goods.
If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off.
Even if it’s a real business with real inventory, the online retailer might not offer secure shopping, which means that savvy criminals can capture everything that you enter into a form on the site, from your credit card information to your address.
So before you input personal or credit card information into a website, ensure the page has SSL (or secure socket layer) encryption installed. The quickest way to check for this is in the URL. You’ll know if it’s a safe online shopping site if the URL starts with https (as opposed to http) and appears alongside an icon of a locked padlock.
No online retailer will need your Social Security number, bank account information, or driver’s license number. If you’re asked for these details to simply make a purchase, close the tab and find a more trusted site.
Another way to protect your personal information is to enter your credit card information each time you shop. Although many shopping sites will offer you the ability to save your credit card info to speed up the shopping process next time, the convenience comes with risks. If the company has a data breach, you could potentially more easily become a victim of identity theft or fraud.
Credit cards tend to offer protection if unauthorized charges occur. If someone racks up unauthorized charges on your credit card, federal regulations say you won’t have to pay while the card company investigates and you’re only responsible for up to $50 of charges you didn’t authorize.
That said, many debit cards offer protection if unauthorized charges occur as well. With the Varo Visa® Debit Card, for example, customers get Visa Zero Liability, which guarantees you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges.*
Keep close tabs on your credit card statement or bank statement — and you might even set up instant notifications on your phone to let you know when a charge is made.
If you don’t have instant alerts, go online regularly and check for fraudulent charges. If you see hidden charges tacked on or unfamiliar names deducting from your account, call your bank or card issuer immediately. Typically, you have 60 days to notify them of a problem. After that, you might be liable for the charges.
Do your online shopping at home. If you’re using a public computer, such as at the library or work, or a personal computer that’s connected to public Wi-Fi, cybercriminals can easily intercept the data you send and receive.
If you’re sending information that could make you vulnerable — your passwords, credit card number, address — wait until you get home to your protected network for safe online shopping. It may be less convenient, but it’s much safer.
If you really can’t resist shopping online on public Wi-Fi, then you really should install and use a VPN, or a virtual private network, to be safe. A VPN masks your internet protocol (IP) address and creates an encrypted connection between your smartphone and computer and the VPN server so your online actions are virtually untraceable, and your data is secure from nearby hackers.
When you’re shopping on a new site, you might be asked to create an account with a password when you make a purchase. Don’t use the same password you always use. It’s annoying, sure, but it also enhances online shopping security immensely to create a unique and strong password. That way, if your login information gets stolen on one website, your other accounts likely won’t get compromised.
If you really want to keep your information (and bank account) safe, change your account passwords every three to six months. If you’re worried you won’t remember all your passwords, a password manager can help you to deal with multiple accounts and passwords.
While you’re updating your passwords, update your web browser, too. Older browsers can have holes in their security that hackers can discover and exploit. The same goes for your operating system and antivirus software. Regular updates will protect against identity thieves and malware.
On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you can expect to find some dreamy deals. But if an online retailer is pricing items significantly lower than they should be, that should raise a red flag about the legitimacy and authenticity of the website.
Perhaps they didn’t come by the items legally. It’s possible you won’t ever receive the items you paid for. They might even be selling your financial information. If a website offers something that looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
Although there are some risks with shopping online, there are many ways to protect yourself and your financial information. Follow these online shopping and security tips and you can safely buy almost anything from the comfort of your home.
*You must notify your financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. For specific restrictions, limitations and other details, please consult your issuer.
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