Start with these tips as a guide to a safer online shopping experience that protects your identity and finances.
With all the convenience it provides, online shopping also poses a great risk if it's not done carefully. Since no one wants their packages delivered along with a side of identity theft or a stolen credit card number, it's critical to become familiar with online shopping safety tips.
You can also work together with an independent insurance agent to get set up with coverage that can protect you further in case a disaster does occur. But first, start implementing these online shopping safety tips today to greatly reduce the chance of incidents.
Tip #1: Only Shop on Secure Websites
If you've ever been excited to make an online purchase, you might have felt an urgency to hit "buy" before the deal expired. This can be a huge mistake if the sale is made on a webpage that's not secure. To prevent your credit card information from being stolen, always check first to make sure you're shopping on a secure website.
Check for an "s" in the URL address box at the top of your browser. Overall, the beginning of the link should read, "https://" to indicate a safe page. The lower righthand corner of the page should show a lock symbol to indicate you can make a secure payment. The Better Business Bureau's website also provides tons of great data about a company's reputation, which you can review before making an online purchase.
Tip #2: When You Can, Use Credit, Not Debit
Most debit cards don't offer the same type of added security that credit cards do. If a cybercriminal steals your debit card information, they can drain your bank account right away, without you being aware of it until it's too late. You also might not be able to recover your money so easily.
Credit cards, on the other hand, don't allow immediate or direct access to your funds, either to sellers or criminals. Banks can more easily investigate fraudulent activity done with your credit card and call you to alert suspicious activity before it gets too out of hand. The fraud protection provided by credit cards vs. debit cards tends to be all around better, too.
Tip #3: Protect Your Personal Information
Always take time to update your computer's spam filters, anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, firewalls, etc., especially if you do regular shopping online. Having up-to-date software gives you a greater chance of being secure against hackers, who are always studying the latest software and looking for ways to break through it. Staying updated in this area reduces your risk of being a target for a cybercriminal because it takes them longer to crack into new software's defenses than it does for software that's been out for a year or so already.
Tip #4: Keep Track of Your Receipts and Credit Card Statements
Save all receipts for purchases you've made online, or download the confirmation page to keep for your records. Compare your receipts and confirmations to your credit card statements every month to check for any suspicious transactions you don't have records for. It's also helpful to retain proof of purchase in case you need to make a return or contact the seller with any issues.
Tip #5: Do Your Online Shopping at Home
Avoid using public Wi-Fi such as in places like coffee shops and libraries when doing online shopping. Not only is the network not as secure as your own, which could lead to the theft of your card number, but the people sitting around you might be paying attention as you enter your information. You also can't be sure of how up-to-date the public place's spyware or malware software is for their computer systems.
You can, however, use a virtual private network, or VPN, to help keep your transaction secure. A VPN uses an encrypted tunnel to protect your data online and hides your IP address. VPNs make for safer browsing on public networks, but you may still find that you feel safer using your own secure network in the comfort of your own home.
Tip #6: Never Trust a Deal that Sounds Too Good to Be True
Be wary of ads that pop up on social media, like your Facebook or Instagram pages that show unique T-shirts and other merchandise for super-low prices. In 2021, more than $770 million in fraud losses were linked to social media, compared to $258 million in 2020. The Federal Trade Commission found fraud originating from social media to have more than tripled within just that one-year span.
Deals that sound too good to be true often are. Take the time to at least browse the comments under an ad before you trust too easily and buy. You'll often find accounts from customers reporting that the offer is a scam. Also, take the time to comparison shop first, and you'll likely find a much higher quality product available on a more legitimate website.
Your Homeowners Policy May Be Able to Help
If your information does get stolen after you shop online, your homeowners insurance might be able to help you. Some insurance companies offer identity theft protection as optional coverage under their homeowners insurance policies. You'd need to double-check your specific policy with the help of an independent insurance agent to be sure you had it, but really there's an even better policy to protect against identity theft and cybercrime.
Personal Cyber Insurance Is Worthwhile for Some
Cyber insurance is a type of coverage that can be added to your personal homeowners insurance, renters insurance, etc. This coverage can reimburse you for losses related to the loss or corruption of data, multiple forms of liability, incidents of identity theft, and cyber extortion. Cyber insurance can also help reimburse for losses related to the recovery of your reputation if it gets damaged by a cybercrime.
The best defense against disaster while shopping online is to browse and shop safely, which can start with following this list of tips. If an incident does occur, get in touch with your bank and your independent insurance agent, pronto. While they can help you recover, you should also report these incidents to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.