Do You Shop Online? What Steps Do You Take to Shop Safely and Protect Your Personal Information?

Shopping online is easy and convenient for most of us. You can find great bargains, compare them to other deals you find, shop from many different sellers in a short time and get your items delivered, all from the comfort of your home. Unfortunately, there are hackers and scammers always ready and eager to snag your personal information or steal your money. But there are many steps you can take as a savvy consumer to safeguard yourself when shopping online.

How to protect your information:

  • Use secure websites. Some websites will encrypt the information you input. If you buy an item online, you will inevitably be required to provide your credit card number – but make sure the site is secure. You can identify a secure site by a lock symbol in the address bar of your browser or by the “s” in “https” before the website address.
  • Use strong passwords that are unique to each account. A combination of capital letters, numbers, or symbols will make your password harder to crack. Do not use the obvious—marriage or birth dates, your children’s names or anything that could be connected to you with ease.
  • Understand credit card protections. Credit cards offer you more protections than other forms of payment. Federal law requires credit card companies to limit your liability on a fraudulent purchase to $50. You must review your credit card statement on a monthly basis and alert your credit card company if you see a questionable charge that is not yours. Additionally, if you see a charge on your credit card statement for something you did not buy, you can dispute the charge. One option you may consider is a one-time use number as some credit cards offer this one-time use number and it is linked to your account. The benefit of these one-time use numbers is that after you use it for a particular online shopping transaction, the number cannot be used again, thus reducing the risk of an identity thief stealing your money.
  • Research sellers and websites. If you are buying online through a reputable website, you do not necessarily have to research that seller for the transaction, unless it is an independent seller on eBay or Amazon, for example. See our Blog post here. If, however, you have never dealt with a particular seller or purchased through a particular website, you should conduct your own research first. Determine if they have been the subject of a report in the news, or if they are affiliated with a reputable organization, such as the Better Business Bureau. Most importantly, find out if any complaints have been filed against them through a state or federal agency including the Attorney General’s Office.
  • Do not save your purchase information, even if prompted. Some websites will allow you to save your purchase information such as your credit card information and your shipping and billing addresses. Even if you are prompted, opt against saving this information. If a fraudster hacks your password, he or she will then have the ability to make purchases from that site without having to enter any information. The thief may even be able to steal your credit card or address or other personal information. Take the extra step and input your information each and every time you place an online order.
  • Use your own computer with protected internet access. Although it might be tempting to make online purchases from your office desktop, on a public computer, or even while accessing the internet from a public wi-fi, refrain from so doing. You could certainly place your information at greater risk from others who use that computer or others who are on the same wi-fi connection. Use your home computer with a secure internet access and password-protected wireless.

How to spot scams:

  • Beware “act fast” and limited time offer language. If you feel pressure to act immediately, that should be a red flag indicating that the offer might not be genuine. Scammers often employ pressure tactics on consumers to induce them to make a quick purchase before they have time to consider and avoid the scam. If you feel pressure, push back or avoid the “deal” altogether.
  • Beware offers that are too good to be true. Deals that appear to be too good to be true are often just that—a sham. These fake deals are a scammer’s lure to entice consumers into making a purchase or providing personal information.
  • Beware the requirement of cash only, wire transfers or payment with prepaid cards. If a seller or website does not allow payment except by cash, wire transfer, or prepaid cards, look elsewhere immediately. Those methods of payment are very difficult to track, and that is why scammers will use them. There is very limited or no protection for the buyers. Once you pay a scammer using cash, a wire transfer or prepaid card, you risk losing that money forever. Look for websites that allow payment by credit card, which offers more consumer protections.
  • Beware any requests for your Social Security number. For most online transactions, there is no reason for you to provide your social security number. Provide as much protection of your Social Security number as you do with your physical safety. It can be used by thieves to take out credit in your name causing damage to you.
  • Beware a Website that lacks presence. If the site through which you intend to purchase is unknown and lacking in visibility, do not use it for a transaction. If you google the site and no one is talking about it, it may very well be a fake scam site.