12 Tips for Safer Online Shopping

By Tracey Dowdy

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner. With the prospect of fighting the crowds or waiting in line for hours only to find the item isn’t as advertised – or even worse, sold out – more and more consumers are opting to stay at home and shop online.

Whether this is your first foray into cyber shopping or you’re a seasoned veteran, these 12 tips can ensure your experience is a safe and positive one:

  • Keep your devices up to date. Whether it’s your phone, your PC, your tablet or a laptop, make sure to check frequently for software updates. Security patches are often included in the updates and letting yourself fall behind puts you and your personal information at risk.
  • Make sure you have strong passwords. Using the same password for everything may make it easy to remember but it also makes you vulnerable. Password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, or StickyPassword can help you keep track of multiple passwords and stay secure.
  • Avoid using public computers wherever possible. Typing your passwords or credit card information into a computer at the library or another public location puts you at greater risk of identity theft. Also, use a cellular network or VPN rather than Wi-Fi for an added layer of security.
  • Do your homework. If it’s a retailer you’re not familiar with, do a little research and check out previous customer reviews. There may be some bad mixed in with the good. Exclusively positive or overly enthusiastic reviews may be planted and not from actual customers.
  • Do the math. Take the time to calculate the tax and shipping on top of the quoted purchase price. It may not be a deal if the shipping costs turn out to be excessive. You should also consider the potential cost if the item needs to be returned, particularly if you’re shopping overseas. I stopped shopping at several of my favorite online retailers while living in Canada because of the extra charges if the item had to pass through Customs.
  • Look for “https://” in the browser. The “s” is the key – it indicates a secure browser. Sites may also include an image of a lock or use an icon called a trust indicator or security seal to show there is independent third party verification.
  • Stay a step ahead. Actually, stay two steps ahead by using two-step verification to add an additional layer of protection beyond login and password information.
  • Don’t store your card information on the retailer’s website. Although it is definitely more convenient to allow Amazon or The Gap to keep your card number on file, you decrease your risk of identity theft by entering it each time you make a purchase.
  • Don’t share more than necessary. Often retailers will ask for additional information for their own marketing purposes. Only complete the required fields – there’s no need to offer any unnecessary information.
  • Use payment methods with buyer protection. I prefer to use my debit card since it’s virtual cash, but many debit cards lack the buyer protection of a credit card if something goes wrong. Talk to your bank about single-use credit card numbers that are unique to each purchase. The number is tied to your original card, but a one-use number is generated for a single transaction.
  • Be especially vigilant when using mobile devices. Turn off Bluetooth; use cellular data instead of Wi-Fi; make sure you set a password, pattern or PIN lock on your smartphone; and ensure your screen locks after a short period of inactivity to protect that personal information.
  • Finally, don’t let down your guard. Let common sense be your guide: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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