In an increasingly digital world, it’s become easier than ever to have everything you need delivered right to your door with the click of a button. Gone are the days of coupon clipping and traveling to multiple stores to compare prices. Even better: no more long lines or bustling crowds. The rise of online shopping brings with it incredible convenience, but there are also potential risks.
Shopping from the comfort of your home can provide a false sense of security, but just like when swiping your card in person, it’s important to take steps to protect your information when making purchases. Here are seven key tips for keeping your identity and personal information secure.
1. Read the reviews!
Reading reviews by people who have already purchased the product or used the service that you’re interested in can be a great way to evaluate your potential purchase. However, you should also be wary of reviews that may be fake or deceptive. Look at things like how recently the review was posted (watch out for a lot of reviews written over a short period of time; this could potentially indicate that they’re fake) and whether the reviewer has written other reviews that you can use to get a sense of their trustworthiness. You should also consider checking third party websites that offer credible, impartial reviews before moving forward with your purchase.
2. Pay with a credit card
Paying with a credit card is a smart way to shop online because if anything goes wrong with your purchase (for example, maybe you get double charged or your item never shows up), then you can dispute the transaction with your credit card company.
Tip: Use a credit card with a low limit. Not only will this help keep you from overspending, it will also minimize the damage if your card is compromised.
3. Read the return policy (and other fine print)
Before making a purchase online, you should know the company’s return policy. Pay attention to other details as well, such as how long it will take for your purchase to ship. These details may affect your purchasing decision and will help you be better prepared for what to do if a service or product doesn’t turn out to be what you expect.
4. Do some comparison shopping before you buy
Ok so you may not have to travel all over town to compare prices at different stores anymore, but it’s still a good idea to do some comparison shopping before you make a purchase online. Make a note of the manufacturer or model number of the item that you’re interested in, as well as details you want to check up on (like color or shipping times). You can use comparison shopping sites to compare prices and details between different retail and online sellers, and you can even sign up for price alerts if you’re willing to wait for a more competitive price.
5. Be cautious with shopping apps
6. Check out as a guest
Many online retailers will ask you to create an account at checkout. While this will allow you a faster process the next time you make a purchase, it also means that that retailer is storing your information (which could put you at risk in the instance of a data breach).
If you shop often at the same retailer, then for you, the potential rewards may outweigh the risks of creating an account, but if you’re a one-time shopper, then consider simply checking out as a guest. And, if you do decide to create an online profile with a retailer, be sure not to use the same password for all of your various accounts and enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
7. Avoid public wifi
While free public wifi is convenient, it’s also a common place for cybercriminals to look for information to steal. If you do find yourself out and about and needing wifi, it’s best to use a hotspot on your smartphone or connect using a virtual private network (VPN) if possible.
When making transactions online, the most important thing is to do your research. Check up on retailers before sharing any sensitive information, and avoid sites that seem sketchy. When working with an independent seller online, watch for red flags, like someone pressuring you to make a purchase right away, refusing to meet in person, or requesting cash payments or wires. Always remember to ask yourself if a deal seems too good to be true.
Once you feel confident carrying through with a purchase, make sure you keep a record of things like the name of the company, the item you purchased, when you submitted the order, what you paid, and any promises made by the company (like shipping timelines or fees). Happy shopping!