By an ITRC Victim Advisor
Shopping online is a fun and convenient way to find items that you need and want. Millions of people shop online every day all over the world. From cell phones to shoes, and video games to concert tickets, anything and everything you could want can be found online. With that said, shopping can be risky. Some sites are not as safe as they appear.
They could have a weak security system for protecting your personal and financial information. Sometimes, they may not be a legitimate merchant, but a front to obtain your credit information. When shopping online it is important to keep the following things in mind.
- When it is time to input your financial information, there are two things to look for. The first is in the URL of the page where the order form is presented. Does the web address begin with https ? If it does not have the “s” after the http then that page is not secure and the information you input could be compromised. Second, on the other side of the URL field of your web browser (or sometimes on the bottom of the window) there should be a picture of a locked padlock. If you do not have both the padlock and the https, then the page you are on is not secure.
- Shop from reputable, known sellers as much as possible. Chain stores, national and internationally known merchants are the best sites to shop from because their security systems are likely to be strong and you can be more confident about their online reputation.
- Make sure your virus scanner is up-to-date and is run often. This will prevent viruses from getting onto your computer and recording what you type (keylogging). As well, many virus scanning programs now contain an application to help keep you safe while shopping online. Look into setting those parameters to give you an extra layer of protection.
- When shopping online, or using ads in places like eBay or Craigslist, do not send out checks, cashier’s checks, or wire the money for your purchases. Use a credit card or a reputable third party program like PayPal. This way, you have more protection if the seller does not deliver the item or if it turns out to be a scam. Credit cards are less risky to use than debit cards, for a number of reasons.
- If you decide to shop on places like eBay or Craigslist for big ticket items such as cars and boats, make sure you find a seller that is in your area. It is important that you are able to inspect the item in person and make sure that: 1) it really does exist, 2) the seller really does own it, and 3) has all the proper documentation. There are many car and boat ads that are scams. Most of the time the item does not exist and the seller will ask you to wire the money to them. Other times, the item is stolen.
Following these guidelines will help keep you safe while you are online. If you are unsure about any company you may wish to purchase items from, you can do an online search for reviews. The BBB keeps reviews on most merchants, and shoppers with bad experiences will usually post in online forums. There are two universal truths to always keep in mind. “If it sounds too good, it probably is” and “When in doubt, don’t do it.”