Safe Shopping: What You Can Do To Avoid Online Shopping Scams

What can’t you buy online in this day and age? Where we once had to trek out to big box stores and brave the crowds to do our holiday shopping, most of us can now take care of the majority of our gift lists on our phones or computers. Everything from electronics to hypoallergenic sheets and even CBD oil can be found online. Of course, the availability of almost everything under the sun is not the only reason why people prefer to shop online. For one thing, you don’t have to get out of the house and look presentable, which is always an advantage. However, you also can often find the best price online. It’s estimated that about 31% of all digital coupons are redeemed in the United States. Americans love couponing, and it’s easier than ever to use them online. It’s much simpler to keep your coupons collected in a digital folder versus a physical one, and in fact certain apps and extensions now make it possible for you to check the web for all possible coupons before buying anything. Furthermore, it’s easier for companies to offer great deals online. They can manage their stock better and don’t need to advertise much beyond an email and an alert on the site itself

The more comfortable we become with online shopping, the easier it is to spend a significant amount of money online. Yes, you can even shop for used cars and boats for sale online — and rather than hitting the jewelry store and making an impulse purchase, you can spend hours looking over jewelry online. The internet allows you to take the time to really think about what’s right for you, comparing prices and finding the best deal possible. Another advantage of shopping online is that many online shopping outlets now offer financing. Rather than dropping that large amount of money immediately, you can make payments over time. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself even buying things that you need, rather than want, online — yes, you may find yourself looking for new granite countertops online down the road!

But as much as online shopping can put a smile on your face, you should also be — to an extent — cautious. Secure online shopping should not be taken for granted; in fact, you can easily fall prey to a scam when shopping online. The fact is that if you’re not working off of a secure online shopping portal, your sensitive information could fall into the hands of the wrong person, or many wrong people. This could ultimately lead you to financial ruin — even bankruptcy. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure a secure online shopping experience. Let’s delve into them.

Research Before You Buy

This may seem simple — but you would be surprised by how many of the sites you use are not actually secure online shopping portals. They might seem to be secure; but a well-designed site can look legitimate without being secure. For that matter, it’s important to remember that a lot of different sites are not made with intent of scamming you. In fact, many of them are victimized by scammers themselves. Scammers often take advantage of weaknesses in security systems, opening them up to vulnerabilities. It’s not that you should necessarily assume that every ecommerce site founded by a small business owner isn’t safe — if that was the case, then nobody could get their business off the ground in the first place. Nonetheless, you should be careful.

Generally speaking, you can trust the larger, more established sites. However, even they can fall prey to data breaches. For that reason, you should keep an eye on your email, and the news. When it comes to smaller, lesser known sites, you can research them through consumer protection agencies, as well as review sites. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start — if a company has no experience with the BBB, you have reason to be skeptical. With that being said, there are sites that are perfectly secure, but don’t have the history necessary to build up the kind of reputation that you’ll be on the lookout for. The fact is that no matter how badly you want to shop online, you need to prioritize a secure online shopping experience over everything else. Don’t put a great deal above the safety of your bank account.

Protect Your Credit Cards

The nature of online shopping means that it’s often easier for your bank account to be compromised online than it is when you’re shopping at brick and mortar stores. It’s fair to say that there is no such thing as a completely secure online shopping experience. The fact is that you need to take extra steps to keep your information as secure as possible. One way that you can do that is through adding extra protections to your credit cards. Some people even use certain credit cards specifically for online shopping, and others for their everyday purchases. This way, they don’t keep their cards designated for online shopping linked to large amounts of money. For that matter, it’s probably a better idea to use credit cards specifically when shopping online — keep your debit cards for other purchases. While the money you lose from credit card fraud can be reimbursed, your debit card cannot offer such protections.

Sometimes, credit card companies offer the ability to use unique credit cards for specific sites. If your credit card company offers this option, you should take advantage of it. If you do in fact get scammed without realizing it, this ability will allow you to trace the scam back to the source, which means that you’ll hopefully be able to get to the bottom of it. While this may not necessarily result in you getting your money back, it will at the minimum be a lot safer in the future, and know which sites to avoid. Of course, you should also work with credit card issuers that offer insurance against consumer fraud. This means that you won’t be liable for fraudulent charges, should they happen. While most credit card companies do offer this type of insurance, not all do — and if your credit card issuer doesn’t, you may want to rethink the card, because it will provide a less secure online shopping experience than the alternatives.

Don’t Give Away Too Much

This could also be summed up in keeping an eye out for certain clues. A less than secure online shopping portal usually has certain giveaways. These clues usually have less to do with being scammed by hackers, which can theoretically attack any site, and more to do with shopping on scam sites from the start. A secure online shopping experience never involves, for example, giving up personal information like your social security number. A legit online jewelry store, for example, will never ask for this. While your mother’s maiden name may be a possible answer to a security question, you shouldn’t be forced to give it up when making an account on a shopping website. For that matter, you should be wary about any websites that require you to save certain sensitive information. All information that you use to shop online should be temporary, not stored for future usage. You may be tempted to save such information for your own convenience — but don’t do it. Something that saves you seconds while shopping can ultimately end up costing you a lot money in the long term.

For that matter, it’s a good idea to periodically change up your information. If you bank online, switch up the password to your account, and for that matter change the passwords to your other online accounts as well. Feel free to alternate PIN information as well. Yes, this may seem rather tedious at first. But ultimately, it’s a security measure that everyone should take advantage of online. At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t re-use passwords, at least not continuously. Each account should have a different password, with different patterns of capitalization, special symbols, and much more. The extra steps that you take to ensure your online security are important; don’t let yourself brush them aside.

Take Advantage Of Payment Solutions

The fact is that there are different solutions that allow people to have more secure online shopping experiences. As online shopping has become more popular, they in turn become easier to access. These essentially serve as barriers between your information and hackers or scammers that could take advantage of it. A lot of people don’t use these “barriers” simply because they’re an extra step. They often require you to transfer money from your bank account to your secure account, and this extra step can seem difficult to rationalize. Why not just use your card outright for that new 8k television? However, having that secondary is simply another way of heightening your security when online shopping, and it’s been found by many to be more effective in manage secure online shopping than simply shopping online outright.

Perhaps the most prominent payment solution that you may be familiar with is Paypal. However, there are now many competitors on the market, targeted towards different audiences. They’ll often offer different pros and cons; some require certain charges for those that use them, while others profit in different ways. Others are meant specifically for business owners, while others are for individuals. Once you find the right one for your specific needs, you should take full advantage of it.

Remember That Buyers Are Not The Only Target

Yes, these scams can happen to sellers just as often as they do buyers. You should remember this, not only as a buyer trying to stay informed, but as a potential seller. Even if you merely sell individual items online, like a used car or you’re putting up your boat for sale, you could easily fall victim to a scam artist. In fact, if you’re selling on a site like eBay, you’re probably much more likely to be scammed than you would be if you sold items on a regular basis, as larger ecommerce sites often do.

Perhaps one of the biggest giveaways of a scammer is someone who attempts to pay for an item online through a check — usually a cashier’s check. Others will often ask someone to call and discuss bank account information over the phone. Essentially, if a buyer is unwilling to pay through secure online shopping portal, they’re most likely not a “real” buyer. Hopefully, this will make the entire issue with online shopping a bit clearer to those buyers who are afraid of being scammed.

Yes, it can be difficult to shop online. You may feel unsafe doing so at first, especially after you’ve just read all of this! However, you shouldn’t allow fear of shopping online prevent you from doing so. Instead, you should take the steps to secure your information, and do your research. Work with a credit card company that has your back. For that matter, once you find websites that you can trust, stick with them. This doesn’t mean that you have to solely shop on sites that are big names. You simply should be careful. Don’t make yourself overly paranoid, but understand that no matter how attractive a deal may seem, there can be certain strings attached. As long as you know which strings you’re working with, you’ll be far less likely to lose money — and more likely to gain exactly what you want!

Author: Caroline Sibley

Caroline is a freelance content creator and creative writer. VCUArts alum with a focus on the arts, travel, and culture.

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