If you’re like many others out there, you’re likely shopping more online than you ever have before. Fortunately, technology has come far enough along that you can buy almost anything you need — without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.
Technology doesn’t always bring only good news along with it, and scams are a real worry for those who shop online. Between the uptick in online shopping during the pandemic and the usual increase in purchases during the holiday season, you’ll want to be extra vigilant while shopping online to avoid becoming a victim. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from would-be hackers and thieves while shopping online.
1. Stick with Trusted Sites and Companies
We all have budgets we try to stick to, and there’s no other time you feel that pressure more than when you’re shopping during the holidays. It may be tempting to choose whichever company or website is offering the product you want at the lowest price, but remember that sometimes you really do get what you pay for. If it seems too good to be true, it very likely is. Always remember to factor in shipping cost and additional add-ons like gift-packaging for the fullest picture of what an online purchase will cost you.
Before you hit that final purchase button, don’t forget to consult the reviews of both the company and the product. While the photos may look nice online, there’s no way to see the item you’re purchasing. Listing photos may not represent the actual item you’ll receive, or the item could even be a fake. A good look at the reviews (and any customer photos) will give you the information you need to make a smart purchase.
2. Take a Close Look at that URL
It’s easy for a hacker to replicate a well-known and trusted company with a website. Always take a close look at the URL before doing your shopping. A padlock icon and a URL that begins with https will help you know the website you’re using is legitimate.
3. Use a Dedicated Credit Card for Online Shopping
You may be using your trusty credit card more often than ever, and there’s a good reason for that. Credit cards do a better job of protecting you from fraud than debit cards do. Limiting yourself to a single card will make it easier for you to keep track of your purchases and help you spot any unapproved activity.
4. Sign Up for Alerts
It may not seem necessary, but opting into alerts can let you know immediately if someone else has attempted to buy items using your information. Keep track of who you buy from and what items you’ve purchased and check on your statement frequently.
Remember that many times a series of small purchases may be made using your card — just to see if you’re paying attention. Freeze your card as soon as you notice a discrepancy in your purchase history.
5. Use a Credit Monitoring Service
Using a dedicated credit card can help you keep track of what you’re spending, but it won’t help you if someone has fraudulently opened a credit card in your name using your information. A credit monitoring service can make you aware of any damage that’s happening to your credit from an unauthorized source.
6. Don’t Save Your Information
It’s tempting to speed up checkouts by saving your information to your web browser, but don’t succumb to that temptation. Storing your information online can leave you vulnerable to data breaches and identity theft. Take the few extra minutes to input your credit card information each time you make your purchase.
7. Call Your Provider Directly
You may find a text message or email in your inbox letting you know that there’s been some suspicious activity or there’s a concern with your account. Before you follow through with a link or phone call — especially if there’s a prompt for additional account information or passwords — pull out a statement you already have and call the company directly. With more and more phishing scams like this one going around, it’s always better to confirm there’s truly a problem before giving out important information.
8. Up Your Password Protocols
Equip your devices with passwords and passcodes whenever possible. The extra time it takes to input the information is a minor inconvenience and can help protect you and your accounts if your devices fall into someone else’s hands. Don’t forget to add password protection to your home Wi-Fi network as well, and always opt for multi-factor authentication when given the option.
When it comes to your passwords, don’t forget the basics — don’t share them with others, store them in an easy-to-find location, or use important names or dates. Always use a mixture of lower and uppercase letters, special characters, and numbers, and use a unique password for every site and account.
9. Shop Only On Your Own Network
Avoid making any purchases when you’re on the go or don’t have access to your own password-protected network. You don’t know who else has access to others’ networks or how well-protected they truly are. If you have a device that automatically connects to local networks, always make sure you’re using the appropriate one when you do place that order.
10. Consider Adding More Security
Even with wise internet use and savvy password creation, it’s still possible to find yourself a victim of fraud when shopping online. Additional security measures, like using a VPN to encrypt data traveling through your devices can help further reduce the likelihood that you experience theft or fraud while shopping online. To learn more about what a VPN is, click here.
Safe Online Shopping in 2021
Armed with the right information, you can step into 2021 with smart online shopping habits that help protect your money and your identity. With a little bit of precaution and attention to the details, you can make sure the only thing you’re worried about when shopping online is getting the best deal possible — and how long shipping will take.