Top Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Did you know that Google gets over 75,000 search queries every second?

That alone can give you an idea of the huge number of people whose internet is a daily part of life, from email to cloud computing. In the early days of the internet, people used to be wary of using it or giving out their information. However, with many internet users having grown up alongside computers, the risks of going online have been downplayed considerably. Today, most people wouldn’t think twice about accessing their banking information on public WiFi, or even shopping with an online store they hadn’t heard about before.

But just because the risks aren’t talked about as much as they used to be, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still real. The threat of a computer virus is just as real as your back pain. Now more than ever, it’s important to know some top tips for safe online shopping, as well as for web browsing in general.

Top Tips for Safe Online Shopping

You can buy almost anything online now, from everyday products to stocks, digital currencies, and even online home insurance. With that kind of flexibility, people enjoy great convenience and easy access to essential products and services. Unfortunately, it’s harder to monitor transactions digitally than it is when you’re going to a brick and mortar store, where commercial security systems keep watch over people’s physical activity. Credit card fraud, accidental purchases, and identity theft are just a few of the issues that can turn up for someone unfamiliar with the right top tips for safe online shopping.

You don’t want that to happen to you. Thankfully, there are simple ways to avoid these kinds of problems. To make sure you’re using the internet in a way that’s responsible and safe, keep reading for our top tips for safe online shopping.

Only Shop at Places You Trust

When you go shopping in real life, you probably already avoid shops that look questionable or illegitimate. You most likely have a handful of stores where you like to shop, because you know the businesses are trustworthy and you’ve had positive experiences there in the past.

When you’re shopping online, it’s harder to tell when a store is legitimate. With modern web design software giving everyone the ability to make a professional-looking website, it’s all too easy to get fooled by an online store offering awesome deals, when all they really want is your credit card details.

As a precaution, you could consider only doing business with companies you know and trust. Amazon, Walmart, and most major retailers are trustworthy and dependable. Just make sure you’re really using their official websites by checking the web address — some spammers will build websites that look just like the real thing, just to fool people into trying to check out and give up their financial information. You can tell when a site is real by looking at the address bar in your browser. If the name of the store is spelled correctly and it has a “.com” extension (or whatever the official domain extension for that company is), you’re safe.

Exercise Caution When Buying from Small Businesses

The best top tips for safe online shopping begin with buying from places you trust. That being said, there are many legitimate, perfectly safe stores other than big-name sites like Walmart and Amazon. Just like communication and entertainment, small businesses are going online to reach more customers, using platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce to build safe, reliable websites. If we only bought from Amazon in order to stay safe, those small businesses could have trouble making ends meet. After all, small businesses have expenses like everyone else, including business insurance and taxes.

If you do purchase from a small online business, just look around the website to make sure they’re the real deal. They should have detailed product pages, an FAQ section, and a way to contact them. Their content should be well-written, without too many grammar or spelling errors. You should also be able to find social networks where they interact with their audience; this will tell you a lot about the people operating the store. As a final precaution, look for reviews on third-party sites from other people who have shopped there.

Also, only by from retailers that are qualified to sell their products. Anyone can open a small business to sell cool T-shirts, and many people do. But unless someone is a specialist or has one on staff, they shouldn’t be trying to sell medical products, legal advice, or other products of a technical nature. For eye care products, go to a reputable pharmacy, not a random online store. There’s no way to be 100% safe online all the time, but you can dramatically improve your odds with these simple steps.

Verify the Security of Websites You Visit

This tip goes right along with the last two top tips for safe online shopping. By simply glancing at the top of your browser window, you can ensure the webpage you’re visiting is considered to be secure.

You’ve most likely seen that little lock icon in the corner of your browser’s address bar. That lock icon is an indicator that the site you’re visiting has privacy protection installed, called a secure sockets layer. This means it will be harder (or impossible) for hackers to get your data when you submit it through an order form on that website.

Secondly, a secure website will almost always have a web address starting with “https.” Every website begins with “http,” but adding the “s” at the end means the connection is secure.

If you visit an online store that looks legitimate, but lacks the lock icon or “https” in the address bar, you should seriously reconsider submitting your financial details through that site.

Use Safer Payment Methods

For the best liability protection, you should use a credit card instead of debit when buying online. If your card information gets leaked and someone uses it for unauthorized purchases, you’ll probably be protected if you used a credit card. This is because federal regulations dictate that you don’t have to pay while credit card companies investigate unauthorized transactions, and most card companies offer a $0 liability for fraudulent charges.

However, it’s usually harder to get protected after your debit card details get leaked. Banks are typically less likely to reimburse you if your checking account gets emptied by rogue debit card transactions. You’re only entitled to a liability of $50, and that’s if you report it in two business days, so attorneys aren’t much help here. Depending on your bank, you may not have any trouble with getting coverage for fraudulent transactions. However, to play it safe, it’s much better to use a credit card.

If your bank or card issuer offers it, there’s one payment method that’s even safer than credit: a virtual credit card. These are digital tools that act like online versions of your credit card. You can generate a fake account number that’s linked to your credit card, and you get to specific its expiration date. If someone else gets ahold of the virtual card details, they won’t be able to use them to make purchases. It’s a good idea to generate a new number every time you buy online, or at least when you shop with a new retailer for the first time.

If your bank or credit issuer doesn’t offer this feature, you can still get a similar benefit by using Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Venmo to make purchases. These apps increase your transaction security by providing a unique, one-time code to the seller, instead of sharing your financial information. This prevents merchants, their employees, or hackers from seeing your card details, much like a virtual card.

Monitor Your Statements Closely

So far in our top tips for safe online shopping, you’ve learned how to tell if a website is safe for shopping with and what kind of payment you should be using. That’s a great first step, and it could protect you from much unnecessary heartache from bogus transactions. Next, you need to stay on top of your bank and credit card statements, just in case something slips through the cracks and you need to report an unauthorized charge.

It’s a good idea to check your statements for fraudulent transactions at least once every week. If that’s simply too much to bother remembering, your bank and card issuer probably offer account alerts to do this for you. You can have your financial institution send you an email, text message, or push notification whenever a charge is made on your account. If you don’t recognize the transaction of the amount, you’ll know to report it right away.

Be Wary of Too-Good-to-be-True Offers

You’ve heard the old saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While this may seem needlessly pessimistic, it’s a good rule of thumb to follow — at least when it comes to top tips for safe online shopping.

Some websites advertise impossible deals, from $50 MacBooks to instant back pain relief, in an attempt to lure in unsuspecting shoppers. While great deals like these may exist from time to time, they’re too outrageous to be trustworthy if you aren’t already familiar with the seller. Chances are they just want to get you to fill out a fake order form so they can get your payment details. Even if you’re using a virtual credit card, that doesn’t keep them from processing the transaction as if it was legit, then sending you nothing. It’s okay to hunt for deals, but know when something doesn’t seem right.

Don’t Use Public WiFi for Sensitive Online Activities

What better place to get your shopping done than at your favorite cafe? Sadly, just about any other place.

Any time you use a public WiFi network, such as coffee shop internet, you could be exposing your online activity to hackers. WiFi networks use public airwaves, and if the wrong person happens to have the network password, they can see what everyone else on that network is doing. If you’re using public WiFi to shop or access your bank account, a nearby hacker could intercept your information and use it to make unauthorized transactions in your name.

Use a VPN When You Go Online

As you can probably guess, the problem with public WiFi isn’t restricted to financial transactions. Computer networking is necessary to go online but it can pose a security threat when you network on public connections. While it may be less likely that someone would use your Facebook password to hack your account, it could still happen. For that reason, you should consider using a VPN any time you go online through a public WiFi network.

A VPN, or virtual private network, is an app that creates an encrypted connection between your computer and a VPN server. Through this connection, you can use any WiFi network without exposing your browsing information to hackers. It’s like hiding your browsing details and transaction information inside a tunnel, where no one else on the network is able to see inside.

While it would still be wise to avoid shopping on public WiFi (someone could look over your shoulder as you enter sensitive information, after all), using a VPN adds an extra layer of protection between your sensitive information and the wide, wild world of the internet. It’s not just one of the top tips for safe online shopping; it’s a good idea for essential online security.

Don’t Give Away Any Extra Information

This may be one of the most important top tips for safe online shopping: don’t share personal information needlessly. The best business attorney around can’t track down and confiscate leaked private information, but they can certainly help offer you important information. If your personal details get out into the world, whether it’s your credit card or social security number, you could have an expensive and complicated problem on your hands.

For this reason, avoid sharing any information more than is absolutely necessary to make purchases. Ideally, you should be using a virtual credit card or a wallet app to make transactions, which hides your financial information. You have to submit your real name and mailing address, however, if you have a post office box, that could be safer for your family than giving away your home address. But outside of those specific details, you shouldn’t ever give a website your personal information.

When it comes to what personal information should be kept private, there really aren’t any exceptions. Even something as trivial as the name of your first pet or your mother’s maiden name could help someone access your online accounts. You should definitely keep your date of birth private unless you’re sure you trust the person or business you’re sharing it with. And for the record, no legitimate website will ever ask for your social security number, so if one does, run the other way.

Even if an identity theft is starting with minimal information, that can often be enough to get them everything else they need to know about you. You don’t want to hire a law firm for an expensive legal case after having your identity stolen. That’s why this is one of the top tips for safe online shopping.

While you’re at it, you should also take care of your body while using the computer. Spending too long seated is connected to back pain and other harmful conditions. Luckily, searching for back pain relief products is easy since you’re already online. Just use a credit card when you check out. Hopefully these tips will keep you and your private information safe as you buy online. Happy shopping!