With so many avenues for online shopping available today, learning how to shop safely online is essential. After all, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and ads on social media sites can be shady at best. When everyone is selling products and services online, how can we tell which sites are legitimate and which ones might put you — or your finances — in danger?
Shopping online demands that the user pays special attention to their online activities. Otherwise, they might be putting their credit card information, personal information, and health at risk. But learning how to shop safely online means more than protecting important information about yourself; it also demands that you buy reputable, quality products. Some online sources won’t even ship the product that you supposedly bought.
Nowadays, it’s tempting to click on the first site that offers a great deal. Between coupons, bargain rates, and impossibly low prices, just about anyone can succumb to a seemingly amazing deal.
The importance of discovering how to shop safely online is more essential than ever, especially now that many of us are stuck inside because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Since we aren’t able to patron our favorite shops in person, many of us are getting our shopping fix through online efforts to avoid a trip to the local urgent care center.
In fact, popular shopping news source Digital Commerce 360 notes that web-based businesses have seen a 52% rise in online orders compared to buying trends at this time in previous years, whether you’re shopping for groceries or dog kennels.
Are you interested in learning how to shop safely online? Rely on these top tips to make the most of your online shopping during the quarantine.
First, let’s learn about the most common internet scams
The first step to learning how to shop safely online is to figure out the ways that you might be put in danger. There are a few primary ways that online thieves will try to take advantage of innocent shoppers, including:
- Insecure transactions: This is one of the most common forms of theft on the web. Scammers and thieves can take advantage of insecure transactions online. This could be through a site that they created or another company’s website that hasn’t invested in the proper security tools. Any vendor that doesn’t use an encryption tool is putting their customers — and their own business — at risk. These range from grocery stores selling organic micro greens to car insurance providers that demand online payments. Before you enter your credit information, be sure that the website has made efforts to protect the information of its customers.
- Vulnerable computers: Some thieves can even use special software to target vulnerable computers. Even though those messages from your security provider can be annoying, it’s important that your computer is protected. Without the proper security initiatives in place, a hacker could gain access to all the information on your computer, including passwords, saved payments, and personal documents.
- Phishing: This is a common internet scam for just about everyone on the web, whether you’re engaging in shopping or not. These fraudulent messages or emails will look like they come from reputable sources, when in reality, they come from scammers and hackers. These messages typically contain a link that allows the scammer to gain access to your email or computer when it’s clicked on. If you see evidence of phishing, be sure to report it to the email or messenger system on which you received the phishing message. If the phishing attempt tried to take another company’s identity, like a dentist trying to sell you braces, it’s important to alert that innocent company as well.
- Failing to deliver products: As mentioned above, some internet users will attempt to sell a good without actually delivering the product. This is not a problem among reputable companies. If this is through a third-party service like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist, it’s important to notify the site that this problem is taking place.
These are just some of the scams and crimes you might encounter while trying to shop online. Now, let’s get into how to shop safely online from the start.
Only shop with reputable vendors
While this isn’t a fool-proof tactic, shopping with businesses that you know and trust is essential when you’re trying to stay safe online. If you come into contact with a new retailer or invest in the help from a small dent repair shop, however, it’s vital that you perform ample research about the company. Ask your friends and search for reviews online before you agree to release any of your personal information. Some sites might even post fake reviews to make the website look more reputable.
At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut. Even if all this website’s ducks are seemingly in a row, your gut might tell you to rely on a different site for quality service. You can review a site’s certificate information to get more information about when it was established and if its vendors are legitimate.
Use credit cards
And this does not include your debit card. When a fraudulent activity takes place online, your credit and debit card information might be the first victims of theft. Keep in mind that your debit card links thieves directly to your bank account and recovering that money might not always be possible. On the other hand, using a credit card for the brunt of your internet transactions will give you an additional buffer against crimes.
There are a number of laws that protect your credit card purchases from fraudulent activities and far fewer that protect your debit card transactions. Make sure you’re able to pay for the more important things in life — like your mortgage, auto loans, and bills — with your debit cards since this money is taken directly from your account.
Never make transactions on public Wi-Fi
While the WiFi at your orthodontists‘ office is safer than the free WiFi at Starbucks, both options are not good for online transactions. Because anyone can access public WiFi, your data connection won’t be as secure as when you’re relying on your phone plan. Savvy hackers might be able to get into your email information, intercept your passwords, or access payment information. If you’re using public WiFi, try not to log into any accounts or perform any shopping on the web.
Invest in a VPN
A VPN stands for virtual private network. This establishes a secure, encrypted connection to the internet thereby protecting your personal data, including your location. Think of your phone or computer like a window; even if your window manufacturers do a great job building the product, people on the outside might still be able to see through the glass. Your VPN will serve as the curtains to protect your information. VPNs are especially important if you’re using public WiFi. Keep in mind that VPNs can be a little pricey so be sure to invest in a good one that will last you a long time.
Read your app settings and privacy rules thoroughly
Fraudulent apps are becoming just as popular as risky websites. Be sure to read through the terms of service before you make a purchase on a new app. Many apps will state that they will not cover the actions of an individual when purchases are made through the app. However, any good app will mention the security settings that they have established to help keep users safe.
If a deal looks too good to be true, it likely is
The Nintendo Switch is all the rage right now, but an entirely new video game console should not cost under $100. If you’re finding sites that show offers that are too good to be true, they are likely a farce. In the best-case scenario, you will be wasting your money on a site that might deliver a knock-off product. At worst, you might have your information stolen and your money gone. Again, trust your gut. You wouldn’t hire plumbers to do the job of an electrician: you shouldn’t trust a shady site over the real-deal.
If you’re meeting up to buy goods, meet in public
This is more of an offline tip, but it is still relevant when it comes to learning how to shop safely online. If you ever buy an item from a neighbor online, you should always agree to meet in a public place to pick it up. Venturing to someone’s home might be putting your health at risk. You never know when a shady individual might try to rob you since you’re in a more private place. Instead of taking this risk, you should always meet at a public place, like a mall, public park, or library.
If you simply have to get the item from the seller’s home, be sure to bring at least one friend with you. This will deter any criminals from taking advantage of you, even if they’re in a supposedly nice neighborhood with tree and shrub trimming that spruce up the property. You should also drive to the location to avoid having to wait for a taxi or rideshare service to come to pick you up. This will ensure you get to and from the destination safely.
Finally, you should be sure to only pay at the time of the transaction. One of the leading crimes today is a failure to deliver goods. In the event that the seller doesn’t arrive at your predetermined location to make the transaction, this will prevent you from losing money.
How to shop safely online: Use these tips!
In the event that you have been a victim of fraudulent or criminal activities online, it’s important that you report these activities to all parties involved. This includes the site from which your information was stolen, the bank or credit card company that was breached, and maybe even your social security office. Coping with the frustration of having your information stolen and the after-effects of the crime are often more angering than the crime itself. That’s why it’s important to learn how to shop safely online from the start.
Whether you’re trying to pass the time or seriously need goods and services online, shopping online during quarantine can come with a few simple risks. With these helpful tips, however, you will be on your way to shopping online more safely.