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Staying Safe While Shopping Online

November 03, 2023

With the convenience of online shopping comes the risk of having your information stolen by scammers looking to take advantage of you. Follow these helpful tips to keep your finances and personal information safe this holiday season.

Get the details

  • Know what you’re buying. Read the description of items closely. Words like “refurbished,” “vintage,” or “close-out” may indicate that the item is in less-than-perfect condition, while items listed as name brand with bargain prices may be counterfeits or scams. Ads for these fake "deals" are commonly seen on social media, where unaware victims are encouraged to act quickly and click on links. In many cases, these are links to fake websites that are used to steal your personal information, infect your computer with malware, and more.

    A good rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Play it safe by only visiting sites you trust and shopping with reputable retailers. Speaking of which...
  • Know who you’re buying from. Anyone can set up an online shop under almost any name. Confirm contact information for the seller in case you run into any issues with your order. In addition, prior to making any purchases, take the time to read customer reviews of sellers and their products. Too many low or 1-star reviews should be a major red flag.
  • Confirm website security. Look for a lock icon in top left of the site's URL to confirm that the site utilizes SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption. Make sure to also check that the URL starts with “https” rather than just “http.” Websites that utilize SSL encryption are set up to protect the data you share, such as passwords, personal information, and financial information. Be weary of sharing any information on sites in which SSL encryption is not used.

Pay by Credit Card

Paying by credit card protects your transaction under the Fair Credit Billing Act. This law allows you to dispute charges under some circumstances and withhold payment while the dispute is investigated. In addition, some credit card companies guarantee that you won’t be held liable for any unauthorized online charges, and some provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.

Avoid Shopping on Public Wi-Fi

In many cases, public wireless networks are not secure. As such, any information you share while connected to these networks can be stolen by savvy hackers. Similarly, refrain from logging into online banking if you do not need to. If you must, make sure to do so discretely and to keep an eye out for anyone who may be trying to catch a glimpse of the information you're entering.

Use Strong Passwords

The longer and more complex, the better! Make sure to make it extra hard on hackers by using both lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Be mindful to not reuse passwords across multiple sites and to not store passwords on post-it notes or on your desktop. Instead, consider investing in a password manager, which can be used to safely store this information.

Purchase Virus Protection Software

Beef up your security even more by having a reputable antivirus program installed on your computer. Remember to regularly check for software updates to improve security and fend of new scams and viruses. Many basic, but effective programs can be purchased at reasonable prices and are generally good for 1-2 years.

Keep Records

Print or save records of your online transactions. This includes product descriptions and prices, receipts, and any online communications you have with sellers. As always, monitor your credit card and debit card statements and be on the lookout for any charges you don’t recognize.

Protect your information

  • Only share what you have to. Legitimate retailers will never ask for private information like your Social Security Number. If you have a bad feeling about what you are being asked to share, trust your gut and cancel the transaction before providing any further information.
  • Keep your financial information secure. Email is not a secure method of transmitting sensitive information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security Number. No one should ask you for this information via email. When checking out online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a URL that begins with "https".
  • Check the privacy policy. Privacy policies tell you what information website operators are collecting, why, and how they will use the information. If you can’t find or understand the privacy policy, consider taking your business to a more user-friendly site.

How to report online shopping fraud

If you have a problem during a transaction, you should first try to settle the issue directly with the other party or the site operator. If that doesn’t work, you may choose to file a complaint with:

Content courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission.

This content is for informational purposes only. Readers should under no circumstances rely upon this information as a substitute for their own research or for obtaining specific advice from their own counsel.