Shopping online is popular year round; I know I love to do it, but the amount of online shopping skyrockets during the holiday season. It is all too easy to stumble upon unreliable websites that look scammy but have just the thing you’re looking for. The question is: Should you trust them or not? There are ways you can protect yourself from online scams this holiday season, and we at Viewpoints found three experts who were happy to share the things you need to do to stay safe.
Six things you have to check or do when online shopping
Does the site have a contact section?
According to Kyle James, the founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, one of the first things you should always do when visiting any shopping website is look for a contact section.
“Does the website have a contact us section or page with an actual phone number or mailing address? Can you call and talk to someone? If the website gives you ZERO possible ways of getting in touch with them, they are probably not legit,” James advised in an e-mail.
If a website has a legitimate product it wants you to buy, then it will have a way for you to get in touch with them. A customer service number is a start, but the most reliable websites will have a general number where you can reach more than just customer service, and it will have a mailing address. If it does not, then it could be a warning sign of online scams.
Does the URL say https when you’re checking out?
Some shopping websites say http at the beginning of an URL until you go to a payment page, where it will change to https, others will say https the entire time. What you need to watch out for are websites that do not have https at all.
“If the website does not say https on the payment page, the site is not secure and you shouldn’t enter your credit card information,” James said.
“The S means that the data [on the page] is encrypted and offers protection from identity theft,” added Steven Weisman, a lawyer and identity theft expert in Cambridge, MA, in an email.
Does it have a SSL certification?
“You’ll want to see if the site itself has SSL certification. This comes in the form of a little padlock on the URL bar right next to the site address,” Jason Whitt, a digital marketing consultant at Geek Powered Studios, said in an email.
SSL certification is used to secure credit card transactions, data transfers and logins, and is starting to be used to secure browsing on social media sites. SSL does this by creating a secure connection between your web browser and the shopping site’s web server. Online scam websites do not want this certification because without it, it is easier for people to steal the information you put on the site, including credit card numbers, and your account email and password.
Don’t ever save your card number
Most shopping websites now allow account users to save a credit or debit card to their account for easier transactions later. But, no matter how safe the site, this is not a good thing to do.
“Although it is convenient, don’t leave your credit card on file with any retailer even if it is one you use frequently. Companies get hacked and if your credit card or other personal information is stolen by an identity thief it could prove disastrous,” Weisman advised.
Don’t use a debit card tied to your bank account
“Use a credit card, rather than a debit card. The consumer protections with a credit card are significantly greater,” Weisman added.
Because credit cards are not tied directly to a bank or your money pool, it is easier for those companies to cancel a card number. There is also a much greater chance you will get your money back with a credit card company than it is with a bank.
Don’t ever use a public computer or Wi-Fi
You should also never use a public computer or public Wi-Fi when ordering something online. These kinds of connections are less secure and your information is not protected like it is on your personal computer. You should also be sure to keep your web browser up to date as well as your anti-virus software. Using strong passwords is always smart as well.
One additional thing we advise to avoid online scams
There is one thing you don’t have to do while shopping online, but it might be an extra level of safety when shopping online: use PayPal or a reloadable debit card.
“If you’re unable to use PayPal account, use a rechargeable debit or credit card that isn’t directly tied to your line of credit or bank account. So if the number is stolen and someone decides to go on a spending spree it isn’t a disaster,” Jason Whitt said.
If you aren’t sure, try to find it in the store
There is always going to be some level of risk to shopping online, but there are also ways to combat that risk. If you’re proactive while you’re shopping, and take steps to protect yourself, it is much less likely something will happen. If you happen upon a website that does pass all of these tests and you still feel uncomfortable, then try to find the product in stores. With some shopping detective work, you’ll probably be able to find either the exact same thing or something similar.