A Complete Guide to Safe Online Shopping

Online shopping is a convenient way to purchase everything from clothing to electronics, groceries to gifts. The ease and accessibility of shopping online offers many benefits, but it also comes with its share of risks and challenges. That is why it is important to understand all the risks, common scams, and red flags to watch out for when shopping online. 

Regardless of risk, there are many benefits to online shopping that cannot be overlooked.

  • Convenience: Online shopping allows you to make purchases from the comfort of your home or on the go. No more driving to crowded malls or waiting in long checkout lines.
  • Variety: The internet offers access to a vast array of products, brands, and styles, often beyond what you can find at local stores.
  • Price Comparisons: You can easily compare prices and read reviews, helping you make informed decisions.
  • 24/7 Availability: Online stores are open 24/7, making it convenient for those with busy schedules.
  • Delivery Options: Many e-commerce sites offer various shipping options, including same-day or next-day delivery.

Common Online Shopping Scams

There are a number of common types of scams and tactics used by malicious players online to try to con unsuspecting shoppers. Here are some of the most common scams associated with online shopping:

Phishing: Scammers may send deceptive emails or messages pretending to be from legitimate retailers to steal your personal and financial information.

Fake Websites: Fraudsters will create fake websites that look like reputable stores to trick you into making payments or sharing your details.

Overpayment Scams: You may receive counterfeit checks or money orders when selling items online, leading to financial loss.

Bait and Switch: Sellers advertise one product but deliver something completely different or lower in quality.

Non-Delivery Scams: You pay for products that are never delivered, leaving you empty-handed and out of money.

Online Shopping Scam Red Flags

Regardless of the type of scam being waged, there are some red flags we can look out for across the board in order to protect ourselves from online shopping scams. 

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Too Good to Be True Offers: Be cautious of deals that seem unrealistically cheap.
  • Unsecured Websites: Ensure the website has “https://” in the URL and a padlock symbol in the address bar, indicating a secure connection.
  • Poorly Designed Websites: Check for typos, strange layouts, and missing contact information on the seller’s website.
  • Unsolicited Emails: Be wary of unsolicited emails asking for personal or financial information.
  • No or Fake Customer Reviews: If a product lacks reviews or has overwhelmingly positive ones, it might be a scam.

Tips for Staying Safe While Shopping Online

At this point you might feel a bit scared to shop online, but do not worry there are habits you can practice in order to keep yourself safe when shopping online. Here are some of the best ways to keep your financial information safe. 

1. Shop from Trusted Websites

The first step in ensuring online shopping safety is to stick to reputable and well-known websites. Recognizable e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart have established security measures to protect your data. When shopping on less-known websites, research them beforehand. Look for reviews, customer feedback, and whether they have secure payment options.

2. Secure Your Connection

Before entering sensitive information, ensure your internet connection is secure. Always shop from a trusted and private Wi-Fi network. Avoid making online purchases over public Wi-Fi, which may lack adequate security measures. Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your data, adding an extra layer of protection.

3. Look for HTTPS

Check the website’s URL for “HTTPS” and a padlock symbol in the address bar. This indicates that the website encrypts your data, making it difficult for hackers to intercept and steal your information. Avoid websites with only “HTTP,” as they lack the essential security protocols.

4. Strong Passwords

Use strong, unique passwords for your online shopping accounts. These passwords should include a mix of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using easily guessable passwords, such as “123456” or “password.” Consider using a reliable password manager to keep track of your login credentials securely.

5. Beware of Phishing

Phishing emails and websites are designed to trick you into providing personal information. Be cautious of unsolicited emails claiming to be from online retailers, especially if they ask for sensitive data. Always verify the sender’s legitimacy, and avoid clicking on suspicious links.

6. Use Secure Payment Methods

Opt for secure payment methods like credit cards or PayPal when making online purchases. These methods often offer buyer protection and allow you to dispute unauthorized charges. Avoid sharing your debit card or bank account information unless you are confident in the website’s credibility.

7. Regularly Check Your Statements

Frequently review your bank and credit card statements to identify any unauthorized or suspicious charges. The sooner you catch and report such issues, the better your chances of resolving them.

8. Keep Software Updated

Ensure that your device’s operating system, web browser, and antivirus software are up to date. Updates often include security patches to protect against the latest threats.

9. Read Privacy and Return Policies

Before making a purchase, take a moment to read the website’s privacy policy. This will inform you of how your data is collected, used, and protected. Avoid websites with vague or non-existent privacy policies.

10. Equip yourself with Identity Theft Protection from trusted providers like Aura

Regardless of how safe you are, the risk of falling victim to online shopping scams still remains. To safeguard your online accounts and financial information from potential threats, explore the benefits of subscribing to an all-inclusive digital security service like Aura.

What to Do if You Are a Victim of an Online Shopping Scam

If you suspect or realize you’ve been scammed while shopping online:

Step One: Report the scam as soon as possible. In Canada, report online scams to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and in the USA, report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

Step Two: Next, contact your bank or credit card issuer to dispute charges.

Step Three: Change your passwords for all your online accounts to prevent further unauthorized access.

The Bottom Line: Shopping online can provide great convenience and great deals but it is important to be mindful when shopping online and to do your research before making any purchases or giving away financial information to online retailers. 

Check out this additional resource on safe online shopping from Aura:

14 Essential Tips for Shopping Online Safely in 2023 (aura.com)

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