While many people enjoyed the thrill of Black Friday and other holiday shopping steals this past weekend, more and more people are turning to online shopping for their gift-giving. And why not? You can shop, even at midnight, wearing your jammies! No waiting in lines or looking for an open register. You can comparison shop, find the perfect size, and make your purchases in minutes even if you are busy. Not to mention that many online retailers now offer free shipping deals.
But, what of the dangers? Between phishing sites (where thieves attempt to swindle you out of your sign-in credentials and financial info by pretending to be a real website), malware (malicious code aimed at compromising your privacy) and cyber attacks (when hackers infiltrate a company’s computer information systems), online shopping can feel a little too risky.
While those threats are very real, a few simple precautions will go a long way in protecting your privacy while you enjoy your online shopping.
First, use common sense. If a deal is just too good to be true, it probably is. While companies have some wiggle room to discount items and offer holiday bonuses, they still need to be profitable. They can’t afford to give their products or services away anymore than you can.
Second, start at trusted sites. Do most of your shopping with retailers you know and trust. If you’ve stumbled on a deal on a lesser-known site, check its credentials. PCWorld recommends that you “look for the lock.” According to their site, you should never buy anything online from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. SSL encrypts data and breaks it up into small pieces so that the information cannot be read by anyone wanting to intercept it. You’ll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the order page for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar. You can also check site reviews and look for signs of certification such as third-party seals of approval (like Truste).
Third, ignore pop-up ads and spam links. These are designed to lure you away from trusted sites. Along the same lines, be wary of online contests or giveaways that ask for your personal information. Never give more personal information than is absolutely necessary. Again, it is best to stick with retailers you know and trust.
Fourth, don’t do your shopping while you’re at Starbucks or some other public Wi-Fi. Using public Wi-Fi for online purchases puts your information at risk. Hackers can access information people use on public networks – including email and credit card information. For your safety, always use a password-protected network to make purchases and access bank information.
Lastly, only pay using credit cards. When it comes to online shopping, credit cards are a safer choice than debit cards. Credit cards tend to offer an extra layer of protection as they don’t directly remove funds from your own bank account. If your debit card gets compromised, the hacker has direct access to your checking account and can spend your money instantly. On the other hand, credit card companies will work with you to track down fraudulent charges and remove them from your account.
Despite some of the risks associated with online shopping, it can be a great way to find the prefect gifts for your family and friends. There’s no doubt that it’s here to stay. In fact, some view it as the future of conventional shopping. So, continue to enjoy getting your shopping done in your jammies. Just make sure you’re smart about it.