With the number of online transactions growing each year, thieves and fraudsters are eager to take advantage of our desire for quick, cheap buys online. Follow these ten tips before you hit the “purchase” button and you can avoid falling victim to their scams.
1. Use familiar web sites. It can be tempting to use a search engine to find great buys online; however, search results could show you sites that operate by overcharging, selling rip offs, and/or failing to deliver products. Watch out for websites with misspellings of popular retailers or URLs with a different top-level domain (a website with “.net” instead of “.com). To be safe, stick to well-known websites and be suspicious of those with broken English and that only ship from overseas.
2. Use only secure websites. Speaking of URLs, you should only share details like your credit card or banking information on websites with SSL (secure sockets layer) inscription installed. It’s easy to see if a website has this added layer of protection—the URL will start with HTTPS:// (notice the “s” in there, for “secure”) and a locked padlock icon will appear in the window of your internet browser, in the URL address bar, or in the browser tab.
3. Don’t share more info than needed. There is no reason a legitimate seller needs your social security number, birthday, mother’s maiden name, etc. to verify your payment method. But someone who wants to steal your identity would want those details.
4. Wi-Fi. Even if you make sure to only use verified, secure websites for your online shopping, your information could still be compromised (i.e. stolen, logged, tracked) if you share it on an unknown Wi-Fi network/hotspot. If you do decide to use an unknown or free Wi-Fi network (like the ones offered by coffee houses), then it’s safer to shop using a gift card, which won’t contain any private financial information.
5. Malware. Protect your laptop or desktop against malware with an updated anti-virus program and you’ll also be protecting your financial information when you make purchases online.
6. Only use secure payment methods. Your Spidey senses should tingle if a website asks for you to pay with money orders, wire transfers, or checks. That’s because these payment methods do not offer any buyer protection. Stick to credit cards or known online payment methods, like PayPal, to ensure you’re protected against shady transactions.
7. Check your credit card statements regularly. It’s always a good idea to check your credit card statement after making an online purchase. Most transactions will show up on your online statement within 24 hours of making the purchase. You want to make sure it’s for the amount you expect and that multiple charges weren’t made.
8. Use strong passwords. Strong passwords (at least seven characters long with upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols) that aren’t used across multiple sites and are frequently changed will guard you against scammers guessing the password or having it leaked after a data breach. To keep track of your multiple, changing, robust passwords, look into using an online password manager.
9. Beware of fake apps. They do exist, and the trickiest ones will look very legitimate—with fancy logos and everything. Like malware, the aim of these apps is to steal your personal and financial information and compromise your identity. To save yourself from falling victim to a bogus retail app, be sure the app is shown on the company’s official website, check for ratings from other users to make sure it’s been around for a while, and avoid being the first to download a new shopping app.
10.Too good to be true. If it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime, too-good-to-be-true price for a usually expensive item—like an iPad or high-end athletic wear—it is, especially if the price is offered under time pressure (buy in next 30 seconds!) after following a link in an email, clicking on a pop-up add, or visiting an unfamiliar website.