How To Shop Safer Online

Young woman with laptop and credit card

Shopping online has an obvious appeal: No lines, no parking lot misery, better inventory, an absence of uber-pushy salespeople and I can shop while wearing my comfy pink sweatpants. Everyone wins! However, buying anything on the internet comes with a risk – the potential of having your personal information compromised. We’re talking about your name, address, and method of payment (credit card, debit, or account number). Eeee! We don’t want you to have to deal with that!

I chatted with Linn Area Credit Union’s Fraud Specialist Liz to get her tips for a safer online shopping experience:

Before you even get started…

  • Secure your computer: Ensure that your computer has up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software and firewall. This software is available at all price points, including fah-fah-FREE. Make sure to do some research to see what will work best for you. Here’s one article that can help you get started.
  • Make sure your web browser is updated: Use the latest version of your web browser and set it to the highest level. (Need help finding the latest version of your web browser? Go here if you use Internet Explorer. The browser Firefox updates happen automatically, but you can read more here on how to look for updates manually.)
  • Isolate the spending: Get a credit card just for using online so you can monitor transactions easily. This credit card should not be associated with your debit card. Check out our rock star credit cards here, including one that you where you earn Reward points!  (Liz’s tip: If it comes out of your checking account, it could mess up your account balance if the store places a hold on a larger amount than the total of your purchase or if you happen to get charged multiple times.)
  • Keep Paypal your pal: Set up a Paypal account (click here) and use it whenever possible while shopping online. Be sure to check the accounts that Paypal debits from frequently to quickly detect fraud.
  • Be strict about passwords: Use a different password for each site on which you have an account; do not allow your browser to store passwords for you. We recommend that you use a combination of letters and numbers. (Liz’s tip: It’s always a good idea to change up your passwords on a regular basis!)

Now that you’re ready to shop…

  • Go straight to the site: Type a store’s Web address directly into your web browser instead of using a search engine to retrieve it. Cybercriminals plant malicious links that look like popular sites within the first few pages of search results. (Liz’s tip: This also counts for coupons that are emailed to you. Don’t use the links within the email. Ever.)
  • Do your research: If you’re buying from an unknown retailer, be sure to check reviews, their address and verify the landline number you can contact them on. (Liz’s tip: A quick Google search for reviews on an unknown retailer can save you A LOT of hassle later.)
  • Look for the “signs of security”: On sites where you’re making a financial transaction, look for “https” in the address bar and a padlock icon in the web browser Status Bar. On sites where the retailer uses extended SSL validation, look for the address bar to turn green on secured pages.

Before you purchase your items…

  • Know the return policy like the back of your hand: Make sure you know the store’s policies and procedures. How long do you have to return the product if you’re not happy with it? 14 days? 30 days? Keep in mind that if you are purchasing around a holiday, shipping might be slower, so if the store has a 14 day return policy, it’s possible you may not receive the product before the 14 day return window expires. (Liz’s tip: I find that online retailers who also have brick and mortar stores tend to be the easiest to work with on returns.)
  • Keep your eye on that receipt: Once you buy your item, you’ll want to print out the receipt. This gives you a sales confirmation, which is the best way to protect yourself in case the vendor tries to charge more or something goes wrong with delivery.

Aren’t we done yet? Nope, while you wait for your goodies to arrive…

  • Watch for seasonal scams: Be wary of spam emails claiming to be shipping confirmation or undeliverable package alerts that require you to open an attachment. Delete any message that claims to contain tracking information, but which lacks a tracking number in either the subject or body of the message. The safest way to track a package is through the shipper’s website or the online store where you made the purchase.
  • Brand name scams: Does that typically pricey item look untypically cheap? Beware. How does the saying go? Ahhh, yes – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. We have seen a common theme of people typing an item into a search engine and finding the item for a jaw-droppingly low price. Be wary and use your research to ensure that there are no surprises when that box arrives… or doesn’t arrive at all. (Liz’s two cents: I’ve seen fake tablets, fake Uggs, and knock offs of almost every clothing brand you can think of. Be careful!)

A big thanks to Liz for all of her helpful tips! Goodbye, trip to the store! Helloooo, sweatpants!

So tell us in the comments below – how much of your shopping do you do online???