Many of us have become pretty comfortable shopping online. That’s good because it enables us to save money and it also shows that we’re embracing technological change. At the same time, that comfort level can also expose us to identity theft and security breaches that can do a lot of damage. But with just a few online shopping safety tips, we can minimize those outcomes and shop with confidence.
Look for site URLs that begin with “https” vs. “http”
You may or may not have noticed that some site URLs begin with “https“, while others begin simply with “http”; the “s” at the end is really important! The “s” means that your entries are encrypted so that no one will see your information except the intended recipient. It’s a much higher level of security
On a simple “http” URL, anyone can hack into the screen and see the information that you have entered. Unless the site specifically begins with “https”, you should never enter any sensitive information, and certainly not the kind that you’d typically be required to make an online purchase.
Keep your purchases to a minimum
People often fall into this trap with retail stores. Once they become very familiar with a certain store, and know that they can get certain purchases at below average prices, they buy nearly everything at that one store, even though the prices are necessarily the best across the board.
The same thing can happen with online shopping.
If you’re going to shop online be sure that it’s for real deals, particularly on large purchases. You don’t want to make too many purchases with too many online sites for relatively small items. The last thing you need to have happen is a security breach on the purchase of a five dollar item on which you save two dollars.
Shop on sites you’re familiar with – or use a prepaid card
When shopping online it’s best to shop at large, well-known sites. This is important not only because there is a wealth of experience in buying on large sites, but also because large sites have a reputation to protect. They can’t take security too likely.
Large well-established sites usually have excellent return policies as well. That aspect should never be underestimated when you’re buying online.
If you see a really good deal on an unknown site and you want take a chance on the purchase, consider doing it with a prepaid card. While it’s true that major credit cards offer buyer protection in the event there is a problem, prepaid cards have the advantage that they are single use, and you won’t have to compromise personal information.
Do a web search on any sites you aren‘t familiar with or not sure about
If you have any doubt about the site you want to buy from, do a web search before doing business with them. You can find out plenty simply by searching the website’s name followed by the word “scam”. If in doing a scam search too many responses come back, you’re probably better off avoiding the site.
Most sites, even large ones, will have complaints against them, so the fact that a site has a few doesn’t automatically disqualify it. The issue is in the number of complaints. Some sites that are particularly bad will even have dedicated websites where users will enter their own experience with the site in question. And that often happens in situations where there is little or no legal recourse.
Use a unique password for each site
When it comes to passwords we can get lazy, and use the same one or two passwords on every site we shop at. That’s an identity theft waiting to happen! If you do that, you will make an identity thief’s job much easier. If the thief has the password from just one site that you shop at, he can go to other popular sites and use same password. That’s never a risk worth taking.
For each site that you shop on, create a password that’s not only different from the others, but also one that’s hard to figure out. By doing that you can limit the damage of a security breach to a single site.
Use a credit card with buyer protection
Even on a large popular site that you trust, you can still need buyer protection. Some sites do stand behind their products, and will promptly replace or refund your purchase if you are not satisfied for any reason. But not all sites operate in the same manner.
Some large sites, like Amazon and especially eBay, have multiple vendors that operate independently of the main site. There can be a variety of security levels and return policies for each of the vendors, and there will be no way to know in advance how well these vendors handle each category. A credit card with a buyer protection plan will be your best recourse.
Online shopping has improved dramatically in the past few years. It has become much more user-friendly and is an excellent way to save money shopping. At the same time we can never drop our guard completely – after all, we’re dealing with people who we’ve never met and probably never will.