10 tips for safe online shopping
The pandemic has resulted in ramped up online shopping. Here are some tips to safely buy online.
1. Use a computer with antivirus and firewall protection
Install antivirus and firewall protection on your computer if you plan to use it for online purchases. Don’t forget to do the recommended updates.
If you are using a friend’s computer, make sure they also have antivirus and firewall protection and everything is up to date.
It makes sense not to use a public computer at an e-café to make online purchases. It’s simply too risky.
2. Use strong passwords
Choose secure passwords that nobody would guess and avoid using the same one for all of your accounts.
Does the prospect of having several passwords intimidate you? A free software can archive user IDs and passwords. You only have to memorize one single password: the one that gives you access to your profile in the software program.
Remember that if you pick your first name combined with your birthday, or your child’s name, a simple visit to your Facebook page will give a cunning scammer the means to guess your password without too much effort.
Use cleverly combined letters, numbers and special characters to create your passwords. For example, choose a word and replace some of the letters in the word with numbers or special characters.
Establish an equivalent for each letter of the alphabet and apply this every time you change your password.
3. Be aware of the threats you face
Buying online exposes you to identity theft, hacking and financial losses. Do you know the consequences of these threats? Educate yourself!
Wily fraudsters have more than one trick up their sleeve. They sometimes use fake merchant websites to collect your personal information. Or they even use fraudulent sites to receive payments. If that does happen, you actually might wait forever to receive your purchase!
Be vigilant before buying something online: listen to your spidey sense. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Does the website look trustworthy or is it poorly designed?
- Is there good grammar and impeccable language or is information riddled with mistakes?
- Do links work well?
- Is the merchant’s contact information available on the website?
- Are the return and protection of personal information policies clear and accessible?
- Are extra costs reasonable?
When in doubt, find another merchant you can trust.
4. Visit secure sites
Conduct transactions on sites that offer a secure ‘https’ connection, the ‘s’ indicates a secure connection. Stay alert.
If a small green padlock icon is visible on a site’s address bar, exchanges – and your information – are encrypted, i.e., protected. The site is therefore secure. Don’t see a small green padlock icon? Beware.
5. Ensure your personal information will not be shared
Many companies that sell online share their customers’ personal information with business partners. The result? Customers are bombarded with unsolicited emails following a purchase. Ask about the merchant’s policy.
6. Learn about returns and refunds before buying
It is so easy to buy online. But what happens if the item arrives defective or you simply don’t like it? Will the merchant reimburse you 100%? If yes, how long will it take? Will you be required to assume part of the cost?
These are so many questions you need to ask yourself – or the merchant if their website does not provide any info – before buying.
7. Beware of extra costs
Avoid an unpleasant surprise by confirming the shipping rate you will be asked to pay before checking out.
Does this cost seem exorbitant? Look for the item closer to you and go pick it up yourself. Many businesses offer this option. You will save both time and money.
Also check if you will be required to pay the shipping costs on a returned item.
If you buy something overseas, consider the customs fee and longer shipping time that may not work for you.
8. Use a dedicated credit card
Ask for a credit card with a lower credit limit - $500 or $1,000 – from a financial institution that guarantees it will refund unauthorized or fraudulent transactions. Only use this card for online shopping.
You limit the damage in case of fraud as you only have to cancel that card and nothing needs to be done about your other credit cards.
Never save your credit card information on a merchant’s website to save time on your next purchase. This will prevent your banking information from being stolen by hacking.
Check your credit card statement religiously. Contact the issuing company immediately if you see a suspicious transaction.
9. Consider secure payment systems
Many merchants use a secure payment system. PayPal is one of the most common. Using this means you don’t have to share personal information on merchant websites.
10. Keep track of your transactions
You have done your due diligence, verified the return, refund and protection of personal information policies. You are feeling confident: your transaction will be aboveboard and you will receive the coveted item by the promised date. You proceed to the checkout like an online shopping pro. Now is not the time to let down your guard.
File the emailed transaction confirmation in a separate inbox folder.
Do you prefer a paper copy? Print it then. The most important thing is to keep a record of your transaction.