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Nine Tips for Safer Online Shopping

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While we can all be grateful for the convenience that the internet has brought to shopping, the worldwide web can also be home to scams and security issues galore. Check out these nine simple tips to stay safe from fraud, and continue to enjoy shopping from the comfort of your couch.

1. Shop With Known and Trusted Retailers

If you’re thinking of buying something from a website you’ve never used before, Google is your friend. Search the retailer’s name plus “reviews,” “scam” and/or “complaints” and make sure the company is legitimate, especially if you’re hearing of it from an online ad or through social media. Suspicious links from unfamiliar websites could very well be “phishing” schemes, in which shoppers who click through are led to a false site developed to steal their data.

2. Check the Website’s Security

Does the retailer’s website have “HTTPS” in its URL? The “s” after “HTTP” indicates that the webpage is secure. If you don’t see that HTTPS or s small lock icon in the corner of your URL field, that means there is no privacy protection attached to these pages, so proceed with caution before providing your credit card information on these sites. Additionally, be on the lookout for “look-a-like” URLs and websites that may copy the look and feel of well-known websites, such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. Do not click on any suspicious links or pictures.

3. Apply Common Sense

The “do your research first” rule also applies before downloading any retailer apps to your smartphone. Make sure apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play, and read through the app’s permissions to see if they seem fishy (for example, an app should not request access to your contacts list). Reading through the reviews on an app will also help you make an informed decision.

4. If It Looks Too Good to be True, It Probably Is

If something is so highly discounted that it’s practically free, chances are, it’s not real. Check the prices of the same or similar items at other vendors to ensure that the item and the cost are legitimate.

5. Beware of Public Wi-Fi

Shopping outside the home? Don’t forget that Wi-Fi networks are public, which means hackers can easily intercept what you’re looking at on the web and potentially steal your name and credit card information. Try to stick to a secure, known network when making a purchase. When in doubt, stick to using your wireless carrier’s cellular network.

6. Watch Out for Email Scams

Always check the sender’s information before opening an email with any special offers or big alerts in the subject line. If the sender is unrecognizable or is using the name of a known contact but with a different email address, do not open any links or attachments, and delete the email.

7. Use Your Credit Card

By using your credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases, you’ll be better protected from any possible fraud. Should you be the victim of an illegitimate sale or of identity theft, you won’t have to pay any fraudulent charges while your credit card company investigates the situation. Avoid direct money transfers such as using your personal checking account to pay for goods and services. Check your statements frequently to stay on top of transactions, and report any fraudulent activity immediately. With Service CU’s My Cards feature, you can set spending alerts and get notifications about suspicious activity on your card.

8. Use Caution When Shopping Via Social Media

Scammers and hackers like to prey on vulnerable consumers who don’t suspect phish-y sites when they see ads on social media. Use the tips above to check the validity of shopping sites when clicking through from social.

9. Don’t Give Out Too Much Information

Typically, the only information a seller will ask for to make an online purchase is your email, card information, shipping/billing address, and phone number. If a site asks you to provide any protected information such as your social security number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, etc. it is likely not a reputable retailer. 

According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly 40% of BBB complaints on retail companies stem from online purchases, which is triple the estimated proportion of online sales from the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that, if a consumer makes a retail purchase online (as opposed to in-person), they would be three times as likely to wind up complaining to BBB about that purchase.   

Don’t be one of those statistics! Follow our tips to stay safe when shopping online.