While security is an issue, it’s important not to overblow the fear. If you shop in physical stores you run the risk of getting into an accident on the way, having your car dinged in the parking lot or having your pocket or purse picked. There is even a risk of in-store credit card fraud, where a clerk copies down all your information. These risks are low, but so are the risks of online shopping. Most of us don’t encounter fraud, identity theft or merchandise that never shows up.
- The most important thing you can do is to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. Even if it looks like a merchant you know, take a careful look at the site’s web address (URL). If it’s Sears, for example, make sure it’s really Sears.com and not something like Sears.somethingelse.com.
- If you’re using an app, make sure it’s from the company you think it’s from. Sometimes you’ll find apps in the app store when you search for a company that aren’t necessarily from them.
- Be extra careful before clicking on a link that comes by email. Phishing attacks that take you to fake look-alike sites can be pretty sophisticated. I try to avoid clicking on links in email and just type in the site’s URL. Also be careful about misspellings. It’s not uncommon for scammers to register a site with a slight variation of a legitimate site’s name.
- If you’re not familiar with a site or an app, look at it carefully. Read the “about us” section to look for a street address and phone number. If you’re searching for an app, read the description carefully, pay attention to all the disclosures and look at the reviews. You might even be able to give the merchant a call if you feel a need for a bit of human contact.
- Sometimes I’ll type in the merchant’s name in Google followed by “scam” to see what comes up. I don’t necessarily take all reports literally — even reputable merchants will get some complaints — but I look to see how many there are and where they are coming from.
How you pay matters
You should always use a payment method that gives you some recourse.
- Credit cards are best because, if you have a complaint, you can ask the credit card company to investigate and it will remove the charge until it determines if it’s fraudulent.
- You also have protections with debit cards, but since they take the money out of your account immediately, you have to ask that it be put back.
- PayPal also offers some protections against fraud.
- Never send cash or cashier’s checks and never wire money
- You might want to avoid shopping or banking from public Wi-Fi networks, especially ones that aren’t secured with a password. Even if it is password protected, there is the chance that someone could “sniff” what you’re doing on the public network.
- Your phone’s cellular connection is much safer than public wife. Either shop from your phone or “tether” your laptop to your phone. It uses data, but it is a lot more secure
- Make sure your device is secure. And notice that I said “device,” not PC. Many of us are using security or “anti-virus” software on our PCs and heeding advice to keep our operating systems and software up-to-date. But most people don’t pay much attention to smartphone security.
- As smartphone shopping and banking increases, cyber criminals are turning their attention to mobile. Be very careful about the apps you download — some have been known to contain malware that can steal your information. Only download from trusted sources like the Apple App store or Google Play and read the reviews in those stores if you’re not familiar with the app.
- Make sure your passwords are secure, long and unique as per this advice.