Shopping is an important part of our lives, and it has been since the 17th century when capitalism was first introduced.
We need to buy everything that we want or need, such as food, clothing, and furniture. Until up to 100 years ago, we would have headed to the shopping centers and complexes to order anything that we needed.
However, in 1995 the world saw the rise of online shopping platforms. Both Amazon and eBay were launched and we all gathered around our computers to marvel at how we no longer had to leave our homes to purchase items.
It was truly revolutionary back in 1995, but now it has become second nature to the majority of us. In 2019 it was estimated that e-retail sales racked up over 3.5 trillion dollars worldwide, and 1.92 billion of us used online shopping to purchase goods and services.
As you can see, online shopping is a large part of modern-day life. It even concerns some that online shopping is removing the need for physical shops and making fewer jobs available for the new generations.
Getting back on track, it is undeniable that online shopping is important to many people and it is a great way to conveniently get all of your necessities delivered right to your door. But how do you know whether it’s safe or not?
Some people still believe that online shopping and inputting your personal information online is risky – and they’re not necessarily wrong.
In 2020, out of the 62,868 cases of consumer fraud reported, 40,914 of them were concerning online shopping and auction fraud.
It is incredibly important that you know how to remain safe online while you shop. Online shopping can be a great experience, but there are some tips that you should follow before jumping in.
Today we’re going to be looking at the 15 most important tips to ensure that your experience remains as safe and enjoyable as possible.
The Importance of Safe Shopping Online
If you don’t already know the importance of shopping safely online, let us refresh your memory a little.
Once online fraudsters get your information, they can use it for almost anything. And how much are they getting? Well, think about the last time you bought something online.
You needed to input your full name, address, and payment information. The business asked for your card number, expiration date, and security code. In other words, you imputed everything that fraudsters would need to know to spend all of your money.
Another thing to note is that if people got your credit card information in the past, they would have had a harder time spending your money as they wouldn’t have had the actual physical card.
However, thanks to online shopping they don’t even need the card – only the numbers. So, if they get your card numbers they can go on a great online shopping spree with your money.
When hackers steal your credit card information online; however, they might not be only interested in your bank account balance.
For example, selling data from one credit card can be sold for more than $45. This means that your data could be sold on to anyone and it would be almost impossible to discover how many people actually had your data.
Worrying, right? However, the purpose of our article is not to worry you into never inputting your data online again.
It would be rather difficult to do this and it would harm businesses that work primarily through e-commerce. So, we’re not aiming to scare you offline – we’re just urging you to know the importance of staying safe online.
But that’s not all hackers can do online. They can also obtain your passwords and use your money that way as well. While passwords and secure accounts are great ways to prevent fraud from taking place, they are not foolproof and still require you to be careful.
Finally, with so many children now growing up with the internet, there are risks to avoid when they are able to access your information and input it onto the internet.
Kids are less likely to understand that sites can be risky and shouldn’t be used. So, it might be worth supervising your children when they’re online.
For these reasons, it is incredibly important that you remain safe online. You can never take too many precautions when shopping online.
However, with online shopping gaining momentum as quickly as it is, it is near impossible for you to boycott online shopping altogether.
The good news is that we’re not saying that you need to do this at all – you simply need to be careful about what you’re doing with your data.
Below we have listed the 15 most important things to remember when shopping online so that your shopping experience is not ruined by fraud.
15 Tips For Shopping Online Safely
Now that you know a little more about why it is so important for you to be cautious on the internet, let’s take a look into how you can go about doing this.
Ideally, you should use all of the below tips and incorporate them into your daily life to ensure that you don’t become a victim of online fraud.
Luckily for us all, these tips aren’t too harrowing or time-consuming. Once you’ve learned them you’ll easily be able to remember them and implement them into your online shopping habits.
Online Buy From Secure Sites
Perhaps the most important tip to remember is that you should only ever purchase things from secure sites.
You might be wondering how you’re able to tell whether the site you’re on is secure or not.
Well, there is an easy method of doing this by looking at the site’s URL.
A URL that begins with ‘HTTP’ is considered to be an unsecured link while another URL beginning with ‘HTTPS’ is considered secure. An easy method of remembering this is to look out for the ‘S’, which you can recognize to mean ‘secure’.
URLs with ‘HTTPS’ at the start of them have an encrypted connection and therefore are much more secure than the other alternatives. This means that hackers would have a much harder time getting your details without your permission.
Using a site with a URL that begins with ‘HTTP’ might be able to help you determine whether it’s fake or fraudulent. This means that it could be run by scammers with the intent of getting your details to sell to others, or to use your money thanks to your credit card information.
The majority of legitimate online shopping sites such as Amazon, supermarkets, and eBay will always have an ‘HTTPS’ URL because they are preventing fraudsters from reaching your details.
So, get into the habit of checking the URL of sites before even considering purchasing off of them.
Only Buy From Reputable Websites
We all know the reputable websites that we can online shop from.
Amazon gets over 197 million visitors a month all around the world, with the majority of them purchasing at least one item from the online superstore.
With so many customers, it’s obvious to see that Amazon is a reputable website.
However, what happens when you find a lovely item on a site that doesn’t look as developed as Amazon does? Are you to give up entirely without a fight and just accept that you will never have that item in your possession?
No, you shouldn’t write it off right away just because the website isn’t developed well. It might be easily down to the publisher being a small business owner without the means to develop their website properly.
Another thing you can do is find the contact information of the site owners. A survey showed that 44% of people will get off a website quickly if it does not house a phone number or other contact information.
The more information you can find on a website, the more secure and trustworthy it looks.
Shop With Established Online Marketplaces
An online marketplace is an area of the internet where multiple different sources can sell different items.
eBay might be the most well-known online marketplace as it has been running for over two decades.
Amazon has also recently released its own marketplace as well, and Facebook has also created its own platform.
Marketplaces offer lower prices and better recognition for the sellers. You can also find much more of a variety of products on an online marketplace than you would if you were to visit one online shop. For these reasons, marketplaces have become very popular since 2017.
However, with greatness comes a lot of fraudsters trying to get a grasp on your details. Even on the established marketplaces, you can find people scamming people out of money. So, you need to be wary of marketplaces.
It is always worth checking to see whether the online marketplace offers you compensation if a seller or buyer scams you out of money.
If they do not even acknowledge that this is a possibility, we’d recommend leaving the site so that you don’t find yourself left without any help if you were to get scammed.
Again, you should always check that the site is secure with the URL. Some marketplaces also offer a seller or buyer profile so that you can see who you’re talking to. These can show ratings from others who have had experiences with them before.
An example of this is eBay feedback. Users can rate buyers and sellers in terms of communication, the product, and delivery. People are less likely to buy off of a seller with poor feedback, and others might be wary to sell to someone with poor buyer feedback.
If the site offers profiles to show you how trusted the sellers and buyers are, we think that they can be considered much more trustworthy and reputable than online marketplaces that do not offer this feature.
Research Any New Online Businesses
New online businesses are emerging every day with an estimated 12 to 24 million eCommerce sites online across the world.
New online businesses offer a fresh perspective to online shopping, with fresh and unique products being created all the time.
While you may have found an amazing multi-colored blown glass fruit bowl on a new online shop, it might be worth taking a step back and taking your time to research the business first.
Now, it’s important to know that some new businesses won’t have much of an impression online yet. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t necessarily purchase from them, but it can’t hurt to be wary.
While you might not find extensive lists of reviews of the website, you might be able to find some interesting information.
For example, a few people might have bought from the store before you. If they had a good experience with the shop they might not bother creating a review for it.
However, people love to complain if there is something they’re not happy with. So, if people have a gripe with the new online business they are more likely to let you know online.
A simple search online will help you to see whether or not anyone has had a terrible experience with the online business. Another thing to look for is business history.
It is a well-known fact that people respond well to personal details and stories. If a new business is willing to tell you how they got to where they are now, with all the troubles along the way, you will feel more relaxed and confident with buying from them.
In fact, 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personal experiences. So, to put your mind at ease from a new online business you should look for a company history to get to know the site better. Some stories are truly inspirational!
Beware Deals That Are Too Good To Be True
We’ve all been there – we find a great deal online only to find out in the nick of time that it was too good to be true.
Or, perhaps, you’ve only realized once it’s too late.
This is true for many people who have been fooled by fraudulent websites and marketing.
While some deals are great and money-saving, some others are simply unethical and fraudulent. A good example of deals that are too good to be true is the online marketplace Wish.
Wish is an online platform where lots of sellers, mostly from China, offer a variety of products for incredibly low prices.
You can find clothing, cosmetic products, and even technology on Wish, all for much lower prices than market value.
Sounds great, right? Well, don’t rush off to the online marketplace just yet, as there are a few catches. For starters, the shipping sometimes costs more than the product itself. Moreover, shipping can take months to reach you.
The quality is also questionable for a lot of the items. As you’re getting a pair of pants for $2, how opaque can you really expect the fabric to be?
Some people find that they cannot even use what they’ve bought off of wish as the quality is so low. Finally, some products will never even turn up at your house!
So, we would advise you to do your research before committing to a deal that seems to be too good to be true. You might end up with a low-quality product with no way to get your money back.
Consider Paying With A Credit Card (Instead of Debit Card)
A debit card is a method of payment, of which when you use it the money comes directly out of your pocket.
A credit card, on the other hand, is loaded with an amount of borrowed money from the card issuer.
So, when you’re using a credit card you’re not actually using your money.
However, you do need to pay this back at some point, probably with an added amount of interest on top.
Many people believe that it is safer to use a credit card when online shopping rather than your personal debit card.
This is true in many ways, in fact, which we will detail for you now. If you buy something with a credit card and it turns out that the site was fraudulent and they have stolen your money, you can claim it back easily with the card issuer.
However, using a debit card is trickier as you’ll get less help from your bank. You will need to claim the money back yourself and there is no guarantee that this will work. So, using a credit card can help protect you if your money is stolen from a fraudulent online shop.
The majority of trusted online businesses will be safe enough to use a debit card with, but credit cards can be used for sites that you’re not as well acquainted with.
While you should steer clear of sites that don’t look secure, you can use a credit card for payment to give you another layer of protection against fraudsters.
Add Extra Security To Your Payments With A Virtual Credit Card
If you wanted to add another layer of security to your online shopping spree, you can also opt for a virtual credit card.
Working similarly to a physical credit card, these virtual cards are loaded with money that can only be spent online.
These are also temporary so that you cannot use them forever.
The premise of virtual credit cards was created to protect your details and real card numbers from online scammers.
Sounds great, right? If you already have a credit card issuer, simply request a virtual card from them and they will create a generated credit card number that is tied to your real account and balance.
Some virtual credit cards can detect when an unsecured connection gets a hold of the details and cancel the card right away once it gets stolen.
Others are able to be canceled as soon as you find unusual activity on your card. Using a virtual card online can protect you from your real details being stolen.
However, virtual credit cards are not always the answer. One issue with them is that if you need to return something that you bought online, the retailer might only be able to refund you on the card that you purchased it with.
If you no longer have the virtual card anymore, this can prevent you from getting the money back from your purchase.
For this reason, we recommend that you only use virtual credit cards online when shopping at less reputable retailers that you know you won’t be able to refund.
For example, some retailers on online marketplaces don’t offer refunds, so here would be a good place to use a virtual credit card. Clothes shops; however – not so much.
Protect Your Personal Information
Only give your personal information out to people that you trust.
However, sellers on online marketplaces could use your details to sell for a profit.
This is one of the reasons why you should never give your address, phone number, or other personal information to strangers on the internet.
Be wary of people asking you questions about your life as they might be trying to get your password information. Moreover, they could be biding their time until they can hack into your account or devices.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of scammers befriending people online to get enough details to steal money from the victims, and you never want to be at the end of such an attack.
So, always be mindful of why the seller is asking for your information. If you don’t want to disclose the information, ask them first why they need it.
Choose Strong Passwords For Online Shopping Accounts
Being able to save your bank details to an online shopping account is a great time-saving feature that many of us take advantage of.
However, you might not have even considered how dangerous that has the potential to be.
If someone obtained your password for an online shopping account they might be able to spend your money thanks to your pre-saved credit card information.
What’s more, how many of us really have a different password for every single account we have out there?
If you are like us and only have a few passwords for all of your accounts, the hackers might be able to access multiple online shopping accounts of yours and spend even more of your money.
To avoid this from happening to you, you need to create a strong password that no one is going to be able to guess. There are a few tricks to remember when you do this, with the first being to never use personal information about yourself or others around you.
You should also use a long password that is at least eight characters long with different cases, symbols, and numbers. This will make your password much more difficult to guess by hackers.
Wherever possible, try not to use words that can be found in a dictionary. For example, ‘fish981’ might not be the strongest password out there.
The best passwords are randomized with equal amounts of letters and numbers, and you can find a password generator online which will randomly assign you a password to use. Just make sure that you make a note of the password so that you don’t forget it!
Check What Customer Service Options Businesses Offer
Customer service options are important when shopping safely online.
Customer services are designed to help you as the consumer and ease any worries that you might have with your purchase.
A business that cares about customer services is one to look for when shopping as this can indicate that they care about your custom and want to help you as much as possible.
It’s worth checking the customer service options before you place an order with a business. A customer service number or live chat to talk with can help you with many different issues from shipping to refunds.
If your package seemingly gets lost in the mail, you want to be able to contact someone to see how they can help you protect your purchase.
Businesses that don’t have good customer service options might leave you high and dry if you never receive your package.
This can strongly indicate fraud, and it will be very difficult to get your money back if no one from the business is reachable. So, we recommend you to check how strong the customer service options are beforehand.
Ensure Your Shopping Is Done On Secure Internet Connections
A secure internet connection is important when preventing unauthorized sources from hacking into your WiFi network as well as the devices that you use with it.
It is much easier for a hacker to get your details when you’re using an unsecured internet connection.
This is the reason why many warnings are displayed when you use public access WiFi.
These are often unsecured and therefore excellent ways for hackers to get into your details. So, always be mindful when online shopping away from home.
Having said that, it’s not always safe when you’re online shopping at home, either. Below are some of the ways that you can ensure that your WiFi at home also offers strong internet connections.
- Always use strong passwords for your WiFi and devices.
- Update everything as soon as the updates become available.
- Keep encryption on.
- Use a VPN and multiple different firewalls.
A VPN (a virtual private network) is one of the most secure ways to ensure that your internet connection is safe to use.
A VPN works as a middle ground between the internet connection and your devices that are connected to it. The VPN hides your activity so that no one – particularly hackers and scammers – can see what you’re doing online.
A VPN is a necessity for using your devices online with a public internet connection, but you can also use it at home for an added layer of protection for you and your information. VPNs can be free but you will get more impressive features from a paid service.
Check For Fraud (Bank Statements and Credit Card Statements)
The use of online banking is a great feature for us to be able to quickly scan our statements and check for any abnormalities.
There was once a time where we would have to wait weeks for our bank statements to turn up in our mailboxes, but now we can access them within a few minutes.
It’s always advisable to check your bank statements and credit card statements for purchases that you haven’t made. If you find anything out of the ordinary on your statements, let your bank know right away.
One or two abnormalities might be normal on a statement – perhaps the name of the purchase is different from the store that you shopped at – but frequently abnormalities should be looked into.
The longer you wait, the longer it might take for you to be able to get your money as well!
Track Your Purchases
The ability to track your purchases is another great feature that comes from online shopping.
A lot of online businesses use tracking nowadays to give you peace of mind that your product is on its way to you.
However, if they do not use tracking you might want to give it a miss on this occasion.
To see whether online businesses are using tracking or not, you should be able to find the answer under their delivery tab. Many couriers offer a shipping option, but it depends on whether or not the retailer wants to spend the extra money on the tracking fee.
In our opinion, we think that the most reliable online shops will offer you the option to track your delivery. If you’re willing to pay the additional money, then why not offer you the chance? If there is not even the option for a tracked delivery, we might have some questions sparked.
For example, why does the retailer not want me to know where my package is? It could be that they don’t want you to catch them in a lie.
For example, if their site says that shipping only takes four days and you’ve been waiting for 15, without tracking they could tell you that it is still on its way.
We know that this is the worst-case scenario and that we don’t want to come off too cynical about the entire thing, but worse has happened in the world of online shopping.
So, always look for the ability to track your packages. It might give you more reason to trust the brand before giving them your money.
Don’t Click On Untrusted Pop-Ups
This is a given to many people nowadays, but it is still worth mentioning as it is so important.
Years ago, when the internet was still relatively new to many people, pop-ups would come up and offer you the chance to win an iPhone 3G or something along those lines.
And, as the internet was relatively new and they had no reason to be wary of a pop-up, many people would click on the advert.
Then they would spend lots of their money trying to resolve their computer being hacked. Pop up ads were carnage, and they still can be today.
Some pop-up ads, once clicked, allow your computer to download a file from the internet. This then makes it easier for a hacker to get into your system and find out your personal details.
While some businesses use pop up ads for innocent marketing purposes, other people use them as a way to target vulnerable people.
We use the term vulnerable here as another way of saying people that don’t know as much about the internet as others, such as children and the older generations.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see whether a pop-up ad is trustworthy or not. However, most businesses understand that consumers don’t trust pop up ads much these days, and therefore they don’t use them.
So, we would advise you not to click on any just in case they are untrustworthy.
If you find that you have become a victim of fraud while online shopping, it is essential that you report it right away.
This is important as you can help to prevent the same thing from happening to others.
You should also be able to get your money back from your bank.
Online scammers who have tricked you through fake websites, malware, emails, or other methods need to be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
However, some cases of online fraud begin overseas, making it an international scam instead. If this is the case you need to report it to econsumer.gov.
When reporting a scam that has happened online, some fraudsters are smart. They’ll cover their tracks through shady techniques, making it very difficult to track their actions.
For this reason, you should gather as much information and evidence as you can so that you have the best chance of stopping the scammer.
This could include the transaction history between you and the scammer, with a statement, dates of transactions, and the account information of the fraudster.
Any information that you have about the scammer would be useful as well such as their number or address. Any emails or correspondence that you had with the scammer would also be useful.
You might also need to write up a report on what happened so that the investigators have as much information as possible to go on. Be as detailed as you can and leave nothing out as you never know what could be vital information.
We hope that you now feel a little safer while shopping online. As a whole, online shopping is not something to be wary of, as the majority of well-known e-commerce sites are secured and safe to use.
However, there are some clever scammers out there that know exactly how to fool an online shopper into visiting their website.
Remembering the 15 tips that we mentioned above will ensure that you’re much less at risk for being scammed on the internet.
Something so simple as checking that the URL is secured before inputting any details will help to protect you. It’s also important to look at the website first.
Does it look reputable? Are there personal details on there about the business, with a believable and convincing company history?
Contact details are very important, so are there multiple different ways that you can get in touch with them if you needed to? How do the customer service options look?
These are just some of the questions that you can ask yourself when online shopping. If you’re not convinced that a website is safe then maybe you shouldn’t spend money there.
However, virtual credit cards can be a safer option if you wanted to online shop with peace of mind that no one could take your real card.
Online shopping is supposed to be convenient and fun, so don’t let the possibility of fraudsters ruin your experience. Simply adopt a few or more of our tips above and say goodbye to the likelihood of your details being stolen!