hile outrageously convenient, online shopping can be dangerous because it involves sensitive information. Every day, people fall prey to identity theft, scams, and false advertisements thanks to the wild ways of the Internet. Austin Keough, an IT specialist working for the United States government, offered some helpful advice on how to stay safe while shopping online.
First thing’s first, let’s go over the basics. Internet safety primarily hinges on you staying within familiar circles and not visiting new websites you aren’t entirely sure are legit. With the holidays coming, it can be very easy to visit a suspicious website under the guise of getting a great deal. Advertisements for big-ticket, popular items will be offered at outrageous discounts, and while it will be tempting to click on them, it’s best to avoid them. Keough notes that these deals are more likely to be scams vying for your credit card information.
Luckily, there are some surefire ways to know if a website is legitimate and safe. All it takes is a little extra attention.
“My recommendation is to utilize websites that are very well-known such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, BestBuy, and more,” advises Keough. “When searching for websites, check the top left of the address bar. There will be a lock icon, which means that it is a secure website. Secondly, secure web addresses begin with ‘https’ and not just ‘http.’”
Another layer of protection is choosing the right payment method to use online. Like how people will tell you that credit cards are safer to use when purchasing gasoline, the same can be said for online shopping.
“For people wanting to purchase items online, use a credit card instead of a debit card since it gives better security. The reason being is that if there are any suspicious purchases, you will be able to contest them with your credit card company. Debit cards do not have that security function,” says Keough.
Sometimes ensuring security means leaning a little more into the digital world. Keough recommends using PayPal, Apple Pay, or Google Wallet as a credit card gateway since they give another wall of protection against scammers. However, that doesn’t mean you should just pay and forget it. After making online purchases, keep monitoring your monthly statements and compare these statements to your bank statements. If there are any discrepancies or illegitimate purchases, report them to your bank immediately.
In the long run, staying safe online means being cautious. Don’t overshare information, and be careful where you input sensitive information when you do decide it’s okay.
“No official online shopping retailer needs to know your birthday or social security number. This could lead to your identity being stolen, an even worse possible scenario. The more scammers know, the easier it is to steal your identity.” says Keough.
If you are trying to access known websites and need to create an account, ensure you have a strong password and try not to use this same one for each website. This way, no one can hack into your account and make purchases. Copy your password into a secure, easy-to-reach place that isn’t on your phone, laptop, or tablet like a notebook.
While the Internet can be a dangerous place, understanding how to protect yourself and your information can make the experience a lot less stressful. When in doubt, reach out to friends or family members who can double-check that everything looks good before you buy online. Happy shopping!