When the weather—and traffic—outside is frightful, online shopping sure beats going to crowded malls. Available 24 hours a day and accessible from the comfort of your own home, e-commerce sites are incredibly convenient. They offer hassle-free comparison shopping and a nearly endless variety of products and services.
If you’re not careful, however, you can become an easy target of cybercriminals looking to steal your money and information. So whether you are buying from an online store or bidding at an online auction, you need to be diligent about protecting your personal and financial details.
The good news is that safe online shopping is relatively easy to do. Just keep the following safety tips in mind, and you will greatly reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
- Use common sense when comparison shopping
If you’ve found a too-good-to-be-true $150 laptop on an unknown website that you came upon in a search, chances are it is too good to be true. Don’t risk your money, credit card information, or personal identity to find out for sure.
If you’ve never heard of the merchant, do your research. Look for customer reviews, and if you are still suspicious, call the company and talk to a representative. You can also do a search to see if they have received any consumer complaints. And remember: never buy anything advertised in a spam email.
- Shop on sites that are secure
The smart thing to do is to look for signs that the site you’re shopping on is secure. First verify that the site has a security seal or trustmark, such as the McAfee SECURE™ trustmark, which indicates that the site has been verified as safe by a trusted third party.
Even if you’ve shopped at a site before, check the web address to make sure you are on the correct site, and look for a lock symbol, or “https:” in the address bar, which shows that the site uses encryption, which scrambles the personal and financial data you enter when you make purchase.
- Decide on a good payment method
Your best bet is to use a credit card instead of a debit card to make your purchases. Credit cards on the whole offer better protection against fraud. Why? If you do use your debit card and end up being victimized by cybercriminals, you don’t want your bank account drained while you’re trying to sort things out with the bank. As an added precaution, some banks now offer virtual credit cards—or one-time-use credit card numbers—that are randomly generated and work for only one transaction. This ensures that the number cannot be used again if stolen.
- Make sure your PC is secure
Be sure you have a comprehensive security software suite installed on your computer such as McAfee® Total Protection, which includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a firewall. Also, check to make sure your subscription software is up to date and that you are not using an expired trial version. For protection against the latest threats, your software must be up to date.
- Make sure your connection is secure
Never use a public computer for online shopping, as information on all computers is saved, or “cached,” to speed up your Internet experience. The person who sits down at the computer after you might have access to your login information.
It’s also not a good idea to use an unsecured wireless connection (network) for online shopping. Hackers can use a program to access your wireless network to see which websites you visit, including where you do your banking and the usernames and passwords for your accounts.
- Use strong passwords
If you type in “Mary” every time you’re prompted to create a password, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Create long, complex passwords consisting of a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and don’t use the same password for all sites. Never share your passwords with anyone—including friends and family.
- Read the company’s terms, conditions, and return policy
Take the time to read those terms and shipping disclaimers in small print. Study the different shipping options and delivery dates, and make sure you understand the total price because you may not be getting as great a deal as you originally thought. Make sure you can return an item without charge and know what the time limit is on returns.
- Keep a paper trail
Always print a copy of your receipt, and note the order number and the credit card you used. Make sure the charge on your credit card statement matches the amount on your order.
- Inspect your purchases
Verify your purchases when you receive them, and notify the company or seller right away if you received the wrong product or size or if the item is damaged.
For more in-depth information on protecting yourself while shopping online, read the McAfee Shop Online with Confidence e-Guide.