Online shopping is fast, easy, and convenient year-round, but especially during the holidays. It can be hard to find the time to trek to the store and shop for gifts for your loved ones between the parties, school plays, and other holiday traditions. Online shopping, on the other hand, can be easily taken care of with the click of a button between the hustle and bustle.
But, no matter how appealing and convenient online shopping is, you may be wondering: Is online shopping safe? Is there a way to check a website’s safety? How can I shop online safely? What’s the safest way to pay for purchases online? These are important questions to ask.
In 2020, phishing scams and non-payment/non-delivery crimes were the two most common internet crimes reported. 2020 also saw more than 300,000 more complaints of suspected internet crime than 2019.*
So, what can you do to protect yourself from falling victim to a scam? Here are our best online shopping safety tips for staying protected on the internet, especially while shopping this holiday season.
9 Online Shopping Safety Tips
- Shop on familiar websites and apps as often as possible.
- Only purchase from secure sites.
- Supply as little personal data as you can.
- Always use strong passwords.
- Only shop online with a credit card, and keep an eye out for fraudulent charges.
- Browse wisely, using updated devices and avoiding public hotspots.
- Vet the products you buy and the businesses you buy from before you make a purchase.
- Keep track of what you order online.
- If you do get scammed, file a complaint immediately.
1. Shop on familiar websites and apps as often as possible.
While there are good reasons to support smaller businesses, it’s also smart to stick to websites and apps you recognize when you can. If you’re on a website, check the URL to make sure it’s legitimate, and look for any typos.
For example, make sure you’re shopping on target.com instead of targat.com, or amazon.com instead of amazon.net. If you’re using a store’s app to shop, be sure you’ve downloaded the correct app from a legitimate app store. Check the website’s safety and pay close attention to ensure that you are actually shopping where you think you are.
2. Only purchase from secure sites.
Don’t enter any personal information on a site without SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. Safe websites will begin with https:// instead of http:// and will have a lock icon somewhere in your browser window. These websites establish secure connections to keep your data safe.
3. Supply as little personal data as you can.
Internet shopping does require you to enter personal information such as payment details and delivery addresses, but be careful about what information you do give. For example, there’s almost never a reason you’ll need to provide your social security number when shopping online.
Other information, such as phone numbers, isn’t quite as sensitive, but if it’s optional then leave it blank. Keep your personal data protected when online shopping by handing over as little as you have to.
4. Always use strong passwords.
When you create an account on an internet shopping site, be sure you set up a strong password.
Strong passwords are reasonably long, contain upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols, have no significance to your personal information, and aren’t words found in the dictionary.
If you want to make your passwords even more secure, change them regularly in case of a breach. It’s also highly recommended to never use the same password twice.
5. Only shop online with a credit card, and keep an eye out for fraudulent charges.
When you shop on the internet, stick to using a credit card or payment services like PayPal. This is the safest way to pay online. If you use a debit card and your information becomes compromised, the hackers now have direct access to your bank account.
Credit card companies and payment services make disputing charges much simpler, as they’ll typically credit the charge back to you and then open an investigation. If your money is stolen via your banking account, you may not get your money back until the investigation is closed, if ever.
Additionally, you should check your credit card and banking statements once a week or so, especially this time of year, to make sure no fraudulent charges are showing. The sooner you identify any identity theft, the quicker and easier it will be to resolve it in most cases.
6. Browse wisely, using updated devices and avoiding public hotspots.
Before you begin shopping online, make sure your phone or computer software is updated. Software updates improve security and help ward off new attacks. It’s also smart to use security software on your devices to protect against malware, phishing attacks, and spam.
If you’re shopping online in public, use networks you are familiar with, like those belonging to large chain stores or shops such as Starbucks, rather than an unidentified public network. If you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), this is an even better way to shop compared to using public Wi-Fi because it ensures a private connection.
Of course, if you can avoid online shopping in public altogether, this will be the safest route to go. Even if you use a VPN on a trusted network, snoopers can still look over your shoulder as you input your personal information, taking note of the information they need.
7. Vet the products you buy and the businesses you buy from before you make a purchase.
Always read reviews before purchasing something online to ensure you are getting a quality product and not a dud. If you’re shopping from a business you haven’t shopped with in the past, spend some extra time making sure they are legitimate. Look for complaints or reviews online, in online forums or with the Better Business Bureau.
As the adage goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. This is especially true on social media sites, where you may see posts about great deals and free items. Be careful and make sure that what you purchase is what you’ll actually receive.
8. Keep track of what you order online.
Take note of what you order, the order confirmation number, and when it’s supposed to arrive. If it doesn’t show up in time, you can contact the business’ customer service team. Track your packages and make sure they arrive when they should and that they contain what they are supposed to.
9. If you do get scammed, file a complaint immediately.
If you do become the unfortunate victim of an online shopping scam, while it may feel overwhelming initially, there are steps you can take!
Start by complaining to the seller, if that doesn’t get you anywhere then escalate it. Take the issue to your credit card company, to the FTC, or even to your state’s attorney general (or the FBI if warranted). One of the best ways we can put a stop to online shopping scams and internet crimes now and in the future is by reporting the criminals so they don’t get away with it.