Shopping Safely in the Digital Era

The internet is a wonderful tool for consumers when it comes to finding the perfect products and services. Many companies are now focusing just as much, or more, on their e-commerce sites as they are retail locations – and for good reason. Shopping online is convenient, easy, and rewarding!

However, as with all things, there are some dangers that are inherent to online shopping. Between key-logging malware, phishing scams, and other spyware, identity theft and fraud are real possibilities. Thankfully there are many ways to stay safe, and I’m going to give you my top five!

1. Always shop with a trusted, established companies.

One of the best ways to stay safe while shopping online is to make sure you’re buying from an individual or entity that is reputable. With the advent of the internet, smart phones and and increasingly connected world, everyone has a history. If you don’t recognize the person or business you’re shopping at, you should take a moment and do some research.

Established retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart are usually safe. However, clever scammers often will change the URL from the proper “.com” or “.net” to a different ending. Always make sure you’re at the proper, secure website before entering any payment information! As an extra tip, when you’re entering payment information or anything that needs to be secure, check to see if there is a padlock or key icon to the left of the website’s URL. This shows that the information being sent is encrypted with a secure connection. You should also see “https://…” instead of “http://…” to again show a secure connection.

Additionally, try to avoid making purchases with public connections like a business’s WiFi. These are prone to security gaps and can expose your information to criminals.

2. Never give more information than is necessary.

Online purchases should only require credit card information, your address, and a telephone number. Additionally, many sites require that you make an account with them, which is also normal. Any site asking for your social security number should send up red flags. That information is not necessary for a purchase, and can be used to steal your identity.

3. Keep your personal computer free of malware.

Before you shop online, access your bank information digitally, or do anything that requires you to input sensitive information, be sure that your computer is free of viruses and other malware. If your computer is infected, malicious programs could be recording your keystrokes, taking screenshots of your computer’s active windows, and other intrusive behavior.

Make sure you have a legitimate, updated version of your preferred anti-malware software installed on your computer at all times. Which software you use is up to you, but some common ones include McAfee, Norton, Avast, and MalwareBytes. It’s great to have these as added protection, but always practice safe browsing habits.

Don’t click on links from unsolicited emails, websites you are viewing, or other attachments like PDFs. These can be loaded with damaging malware. If you really have to go through a link, check the location with Google or another search engine first. If it is legitimate, you should be able to find it there instead. Do not click the link.

Additionally, make sure you computer’s operating system (Windows, Linux, etc.) is updated and working properly.

4. Make sure you keep a copy of the transaction history.

After you’ve decided that a website is secure and trustworthy enough to make a purchase, make absolutely sure that you’ve got proof of purchase. Either print the receipt or, if that option isn’t given, take a screenshot and save it. This is the only proof you have, beyond a confirmation email that you may never receive, that you’ve paid this individual or company. Keep it in a safe place where you’ll be able to find it, just like a regular receipt from a retail store.

5. If it’s too good to be true…

The old saying here rings truer now than ever: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If an individual or entity promises a chance to win something if you make repeated purchases, offers a “special, one-time only discounted price” if you buy an expensive bundle, or has nothing but glowing reviews, you might be dealing with a scam artist or a fraudulent website.

Trust your gut, and always do your research before giving anyone any personal information. In this emerging and wonderful online marketplace, its more important then ever to stay safe and enjoy all the internet has to offer!