This is a busy time of the year for shopping. But you want to be sure you stay safe online.
There’s nothing I love more than online shopping – especially during the busy holiday season. Talk about efficiency.
It would be nearly impossible to visit all those stores or even have a fraction of the selection when shopping traditionally.
Plus, many online retailers will deliver for free right to your door. And don’t even get me started on the benefits of customers reviews! What’s not to love😊
However, every silver lining has a dark cloud and online shopping is no exception.
But with these online shopping tips and tricks, you can be confident that your online shopping experience will be as jolly as Old St. Nick!
Stay Safe Online
Free public wi-fi is great for surfing the web but not so much for online shopping. Since it’s open to the public, your credit card number and personal information are vulnerable.
Your best bet to stay safe online is to do your shopping from home. If you use a wireless router, make sure it’s secured with a strong password.
Also make sure you choose WPA2 or WPA security options as they’re more secure than WEP.
Since all routers are different, there’s no singular way to set these options.
To find out how to do it, look at your router and find the manufacturer, model and serial number and then google security options using this information.
You Need More Than an Antivirus
These days, a plain old antivirus alone just isn’t enough. You also need protection against spyware, malware, ransomware and a firewall to help prevent attacks.
And just because you use a Mac doesn’t mean you’re safe. They may be less vulnerable than a PC but they still need protection.
There are lots of free options available for both PC and Mac that fit the bill. Some of the highest rated are BitDefender and AVG.
They offer all-in-one protection at a variety of levels. I’ve been using them for over a decade and have never had an issue.
Make Sure You’re in the Right Place
If you receive an email with a link to an online store, it’s best not to click it.
If you’re interested in the offer, type the store name (not the link from the email) directly into your browser instead. This can prevent phishing schemes or viruses.
And before you buy, always check the address bar. Things you want to look for are a URL that begins with “https” instead of “http”. The “s” stands for secure.
You should also see a padlock symbol and on some browsers, the entire address bar will turn green to indicate the site is safe.
These are all good signs that a site is secure from a technology standpoint but it’s no guarantee the seller is honest and will do the right thing.
If a site is unfamiliar, check their reputation online by googling the company name + “complaints”.
Also, if there’s a problem with the website’s security certificate, don’t proceed with the purchase. It’s better to go somewhere else than take a chance with your identity and credit.
Shopping apps tend to be a good way to stay safe online since, unlike a website, you only login once upon installation.
However, these apps can become a free-for-all if your phone happens to fall into the wrong hands.
The best way to combat this is to make sure to lock your phone when it’s not in use. Use a pin or, better yet, biometrics if your phone has this capability.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you have remote wipe capabilities. This can allow you to erase sensitive data from your phone if it’s stolen.
Most major platforms offer this in some form or another. You can google options that apply to your particular phone, or talk with your carrier. They sometimes offer options as well.
In most cases, this will need to be set up on your phone before it goes missing.
And you’ll need to initiate the data wipe as soon as you realize your phone is gone to prevent your information being uncovered.
It’s also important to only install apps from reputable sources like the App Store or Google Play, and make sure the permissions make sense before you download.
Checking the reviews and number of downloads can help you choose the safest apps as well.
Your identity is one of the most valuable things you own.
And while there are services that offer to help you protect it and even insure against losses you may incur, the easiest thing you can do is follow a few safe online shopping practices.
How Strong is Your Password?
When choosing a password, do you create ones that are easy to guess like birthdays, children’s names or anniversaries? If so, you could be vulnerable.
When selecting a password, it’s good practice to choose random upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
This way, would-be identity thieves will have a harder time guessing or using software to figure it out.
It’s also a good idea to have a different password for each account. In the event one account is compromised, the others will remain safe.
And what’s the best way to keep up with all these random passwords? Write them down in a special notebook and hide it.
Passwords stored in a word document, excel file or in the cloud could be compromised under the right circumstances.
An Even Better Option
If you want to really stay safe online while shopping, check out as a guest.
You’ll still have to provide your email, shipping address and a form of payment, but your personal information won’t be stored on company servers.
This is a great choice when shopping on sites you don’t use very often.
Don’t Give It Away
Some companies don’t give you the option to check out as a guest, so if you want to purchase from them, you’ll have to set up an account.
If that’s the case, you should only fill out the required information which is usually indicated by an asterisk (*). Online merchants should only need a few things from you including your name, email, billing and shipping address and payment information.
There’s no reason you should ever have to provide your social security number, driver license number or birthday when checking out online. If a company requires this, leave ASAP.
Likewise, you should never provide personal information to a caller or in response to an email request. This is a good rule of thumb to stay safe online and off.
If you believe the request is legitimate, go online and get the customer service number for the company and contact them directly. If it’s valid, they’ll let you know.
The Best Way to Pay
PayPal used to be synonymous with eBay but now most online stores offer this option. And it’s your absolute best bet to stay safe online.
The reason is because the site where you’re shopping never has access to your credit card information.
PayPal handles all of that securely, so unless PayPal themselves are hacked, your information is safe. It’s free to sign up so there’s really no downside.
In the event a site doesn’t accept PayPal, you should always use a credit card instead of a debit or gift card.
Credit card companies offer more protection against unauthorized purchases and almost always side with the buyer.
Another option to stay safe online is not to store your credit card information on file with an online store.
They offer this option for convenience, but it still means your credit card information is sitting on their servers. Your information could be exposed if they fall victim to hackers.
Know the Policy
Another way to make sure there are no surprises while shopping online is to read the company’s privacy and return policies before checking out.
If you don’t agree with them, don’t buy. There’s usually more than one merchant selling an item, so you should have choices.
Also, check their shipping policy. Some companies will try to trick you by pricing their items very low and making up the difference with inflated shipping and handling charges.
You often won’t see these until you’re in your cart, ready to check out. Once you factor in these extra charges, you may find you’re paying more than you should.
Protect Your Package
You’ll benefit greatly if you take these steps to stay safe online but don’t forget about your packages once they ship.
Porch pirates are becoming more brazen by the day. There are countless reports of people walking up to homes in broad daylight and stealing packages right off the front porch.
However, there are ways to protect yourself and your packages.
Always require a signature for delivery. This way, if you’re not home, the driver won’t leave the packages. Couriers will usually leave a note letting you know they came by and when they’ll be back.
If your employer will allow it, you can have packages delivered to your workplace. This is almost always a safer option if you know you’ll be at work during the time the package should arrive.
Conversely, you could request your packages to be sent to a neighbor, relative or friend who will be home during the day.
FedEx and UPS Offer Solutions
Both FedEx and UPS allow you to re-route your packages and have them held at the nearest facility for pick up later.
There’s usually no charge for this service and you know your packages will be safe because you’ll have to provide proof of purchase and ID to retrieve them.
You can sign up for text alerts that will let you track your package and notify you when your package been delivered. You’ll have to sign up for an account which will allow you to do this online.
For more information on FedEx Delivery Manager, you can visit http://www.fedex.com/locate/.
UPS My Choice can be found at https://www.ups.com/mychoice/.
One last precaution you can take is to insure your packages for at least the value of the item being shipped. This way, if all else fails, you should be reimbursed for the amount you insured.
Still the Best Way to Shop
Shopping online may have a few downsides, but for me at least, you can’t beat it.
You literally have access to shop the entire world and while there’s the occasional exception, most experiences turn out just fine.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is true for online shopping as much as anything else.
So, if you keep these online shopping tips and trick in mind next time you’re online, you can safely shop ‘til you drop…your mouse😊!