How to Shop Safely Online: Best Tips for 2022
Michelle Wilson - April 23, 2022
It seems more people than ever are flocking to online retailers, shopping from the comfort of home instead of busy shopping centers. With the increase in popularity comes an increase in fraudsters hoping to join the digital trend, trying to capitalize on seasonal scams – often at your expense.
Is Online Shopping Safe?
When COVID-19 lockdowns rocked the world in 2020, online shopping skyrocketed, accounting for a fifth of all consumer spending in the third quarter. Unfortunately, fraudsters weren’t far behind this trend, capitalizing on the transition with an explosion of delivery scams. With nearly 1 in 10 phone scams relating to fraudulent deliveries, it seems the virtual transition made a simplified strategy.
Protecting your information online is paramount for safety, making safer online shopping habits essential. Here are some of the top tips and techniques to keep you protected:
Always Avoid Debit Cards Online
As most credit cards offer price matching and extended warranties on purchases, they are a leading contender for the online realm of buying power. On top of that, a credit card can protect your bank account too. Should your credit card be stolen, and you dispute the charges, you’re fighting not to pay for an item. On the other hand, using a debit card puts you at a disadvantage, with the money leaving your account and users trying to fight to get it back.
Use One-Time Credit Card Numbers or Virtual Cards Online
While credit cards are safer than debit cards, using a one-time credit card is the safest option. Ask your credit card issuer on virtual or one-time credit cards, which hold a different number, expiration date, and CVV than the physical card. Most of these services are valid for a month and are often free with some credit cards.
Many third-party services can also issue temporary cards for users, although many may charge a small fee. Virtual cards allow users to set a maximum charge limit, especially if you’re looking for smaller purchases. If the card becomes compromised, a thief can’t charge anything to the card. Additionally, some virtual cards are locked to a single merchant, ensuring one charge at a single store can’t be made at a different store.
Single-use card numbers are particularly beneficial for online stores you’re unsure of. If your data does become breached while using these cards, it becomes useless to a thief overall while still helping the issuer track down the fraudulent charge.
Only Pay with Established Payment Methods
When shopping online, always stick with known payment methods that have a reputation with online retailers. These include PayPal, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, and Apple Pay. Set up two-factor authentication to verify your identity and protect against fraudulent purchases whenever possible. If your credit card number goes directly to the merchant’s platform, they could potentially store your credit card data or process it in an insecure way. While the Payment Card Industry (PCI), smaller merchants may not be following them.
Watch for Phishing Scams
Unfortunately, phishing scams have grown 65% in the last year, with 1 in 25 being branded as a phishing scam. The best defense against phishing scams is proactive behaviors, whether confirming the details of a website you’re visiting or avoiding external links from unknown senders. A phishing website can steal your identity and compromise financial accounts in only a few moments.
Always check the web address you’re visiting before entering any personal information. Make sure the domain is one you recognize without spelling errors. If you’re unsure of the email, consider using an email lookup tool to determine whether the email came from a legitimate source.
Closely Monitor Sensitive Accounts
Pay close attention to your bank statements throughout the month, primarily if you use the account to make online purchases. Most financial institutions allow email, SMS, or online alerts to notify the account holder of a large purchase before maxing out the card. Any unrecognized transaction should be immediately reported, especially if you’ve recently made purchases on a new website.
Refrain From Public Computers or Wi-Fi Networks While Shopping
All online shopping should hold a secure connection, preferably using a home or workplace network for credit card transactions. Your credit card will remain in plain sight, but there are also additional security risks involved when you’re entering these details through a public Wi-Fi network. Avoid a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi to make purchases; they’re a hot spot for malicious actors trying to gain access.
Use high-quality antivirus and security software on any device you’re using for online shopping for extra security. This prerequisite includes laptops, tablets, or mobile devices. Refrain from making online purchases using a shared computer, such as a hotel business center or public library.
Don’t Share Personal Details Online
While consumers will always share personal details with online purchases, pay attention to the information a merchant requests before filling out the form. Standard information includes your complete name, mailing address, and credit card details with online orders. Alternatively, requests for birthdays or Social Security numbers should be a giant red flag.
Whenever possible, avoid reusing passwords or secret questions across multiple sites. Most personal devices will come with a password manager tool to store passwords securely. Don’t make security questions something easily guessable, such as your first car, maiden name, or birthday. Most of these details are available online through your social media accounts, making them highly targeted questions.
Be Wary of Unbelievable Deals
If you come across a premium product for a heavily discounted price, there’s a good chance it’s not without reason. While discounted products don’t necessarily suggest fraud, a user should always first investigate the merchant’s reputation and business rating. Chances are if something seems off, it probably is. For instance, if a product is usually $2,000 and you’ve found it online for only $750, there’s almost always a catch.
Any expensive item available online should always purchase from a reputable company. Always perform due diligence and apply the same judgment you would use in person. If you wouldn’t buy a high-end television from a vendor on the street, you probably shouldn’t purchase one from a questionable website online.
Knowing and recognizing the dangers of online shopping is critical in protecting yourself online. Especially when you consider the impact of entering personal information virtually without verifying the merchant, domain, or recipient. By ensuring all platforms are reputable and secure, you’ll eliminate some of the security risks online without sacrificing the convenience of couch shopping.
Before entering the information, always question a website’s security, especially when the domain offers significant discounts or hard-to-locate items online. Ensure that all payment methods are recognized and protected online, sticking with credit cards over debit cards whenever possible. If you notice unauthorized charges on your account, contact your financial institution immediately to dispute the transactions.