How to Make Purchases Online Safer
If you’re like most consumers, you do a lot of online shopping. Generally speaking, online shopping is safer now than it’s ever been before—but every year, hundreds of thousands of people are the victims of online fraud.
You might not get what you pay for. You might unwittingly hand your personal information over to a cybercriminal. You might be the victim of overcharging, or other schemes meant to tap into your bank information.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you can take, as a consumer, to make your online purchases safer.
Choose Your Platforms Carefully
First, choose your platforms and online stores carefully. Some platforms offer much greater protection than others. Websites and platforms with a long history and tons of consumer reviews are generally more trustworthy than sites that have just emerged. Check to make sure the site provides SSL encryption (denoted by HTTPS instead of HTTP), and investigate to learn what kind of payment processing they use.
You’ll also want to look up the company’s policies and security measures; for example, does this company offer fraud protection for their customers? What kind of return policy do they offer? Only do business with companies you trust.
Always Double Check the Legitimacy of the Site
Even if you trust a high-profile, well-known name in the industry, it’s important to double-check to ensure the legitimacy of a site before you complete a purchase. Occasionally, cybercriminals will mock up a site designed to look like a legitimate site, with the sole intention of nabbing your personal information. When this happens, you’ll usually be able to notice something out of place—like a logo that doesn’t look quite right, an unfamiliar URL, or a checkout process that isn’t what you’re used to.
Consider Using Prepaid Debit Cards
Prepaid debit cards are loaded with a fixed amount of money, and can usually be used like any standard debit or credit card. If a thief gets access to your credit card or debit card information, they could rack up debt in your name or make purchases without your consent. But if they steal the information of a prepaid debit card, there’s an upper limit to how much damage they can cause.
Use Cards and Payment Services With Fraud Protection
These days, most credit card providers and other financial institutions offer some measure of fraud protection. If someone makes an unauthorized purchase on your account, you’ll be entitled to a full refund (and a new credit card) after reporting the issue. However, you shouldn’t flatly assume that you have this protection; do your research and only work with the institutions that offer suitable perks for their customers.
Additionally, it’s important for you to keep a close eye on your accounts. Monitor for any suspicious charges, or purchases you don’t remember authorizing.
Use Strong Passwords, and Change Them Often
Most online stores require you to create and use an account for all your purchases. If your password is weak, or easy to guess, it’s only a matter of time before someone gains access to that account (and could potentially make purchases in your name).
The best way to fight against this is to choose a strong password, with a mix of characters (like lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and special symbols), and a high number of characters. Be sure to change your password regularly as well.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
When making online purchases, make sure you’re only using a secure, trusted network. If you use public Wi-Fi, you may be rendering yourself vulnerable. Because the Wi-Fi network isn’t secured, anyone with access to the network could feasibly gain access to the information you’re transmitting. As long as you use a network with decent security and a password restricting access, you should be fine.
Understand Common Schemes
It’s also a good idea to educate yourself on common schemes executed by cybercriminals. For example, if someone gets access to your email address, they may send you a message masquerading as a representative from an online store, asking for your password or credit card information. You may also stumble upon a fake online form asking you for your information (a scam known as phishing). The better you understand these tricks, the better you can avoid them.
These days, online shopping is relatively safe, and most people are able to make purchases on a regular basis without dealing with scams or fraudulent transactions. However, it’s still important to learn and adhere to best practices for online security. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a tech expert or spend much time or money to guard yourself; even the most rudimentary steps can keep you relatively safe in this online environment.