Whether you’re supporting small businesses, creating custom gifts or buying ebooks, music or anything else, it’s important to keep yourself and your personal information safe. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to do.
- Almost all online purchases require using a credit card. For added safety, use one credit card just for online purchases. Set a very low purchase limit (say, $200) to minimize risk. You could also buy a cash card from Visa or American Express to use for very small purchases.
- Do not use your debit card/bank card unless you absolutely have to. This protects your bank account.
- Work with well-known companies. Real-world stores also have online ordering – you know they’re legitimate businesses. Other safe bets are Amazon, Zappos (shoes, bags, clothing & more) and Audible for downloadable audiobooks.
- S is for Security: When you’re buying from a website and you click on Check Out, look for the letters “https://” in the website’s address. That “s” means that it’s more secure for your personal information. You can also look for a little padlock on the page or near the website address.
- Don’t click on links in email. Visit the store’s website directly and then enter in any catalog or discount codes at checkout.
- Know the full cost of what you’re buying, including shipping and handling charges, fees and tax (if applicable). What looks like a deal might not be after you add it all up.
- Read the details for cost, shipping, delivery dates, and any other steps along the way. Take your time and understand what you’re doing.
- Read the return policy. Some stores like Zappos and Lands End have excellent return policies.
- Never give out bank information, Social Security numbers or your birthdate. No legitimate business will ever ask for these – they don’t when you stand at the cash register, do they?
- Don’t use a public computer for making purchases. Someone might be looking at your screen as you type in your credit card number, or might have done something to the computer to record what you type.
- Keep records of your online transactions & check your statements. Save the emailed receipts from the sellers and check your credit card statement online more often than once a month. This will help in case something does go wrong.
- Protect your computer from malicious software from fake vendors. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated – new viruses come up all the time.
- When you buy from smaller companies, look for a physical address, customer service phone number and lots of information on the “About” page. Lots of details improves the chances that it’s a real business and not a scam.
- Use a third-party payment service for your online buying. PayPal is the most well-known and trusted of these. Create an account with PayPal, store your credit card information there, then use your PayPal account to make purchases at other sites. This way, you don’t have to give your credit card number to all those smaller sites – just to PayPal.
Help & Resources
- OnGuardOnline (Dept of Homeland Security) has great tips on shopping online
- SafeShopping.org – the American Bar Association offers suggestions for safer online buying. Especially read the Payment tips
- A CNet article and PC Magazine article on safe online shopping
- From the AARP: How to Shop Online More Safely, 6 Rules for Safer Financial Transactions Online and many more
- What is a CAPTCHA? (those funny words you have to type in when you comment or buy something)