Though the benefits of shopping online are without doubt, there are also some serious dangers to be aware of. Fortunately, most of these threats are easily avoidable, provided you practice good browsing habits and learn how to identify some of the more obvious online scams. By following a few basic guidelines, you’ll be in a better position to shop in confidence and safety.
#1. Use Familiar Websites
Virtually all major high-street retailers have online stores, which are perfectly safe to use, provided you make sure you’re on the right website. However, with smaller e-commerce stores, you’ll need to be a little more careful by carrying out a bit of research before you start giving out your payment details. In particular, make sure that the store uses a recognized and respected payment system, such as PayPal. With PayPal, for example, you don’t actually need to provide any payment details to the store itself, since PayPal handles everything.
#2. Use Strong Passwords
You should have unique, strong passwords for all of your online accounts, instead of using the same password for everything as many people make the mistake of doing. Just as importantly, you need to make sure your password is practically impossible to crack. A strong password should be at least 10 characters long and use a mix of letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid using common words that can easily be cracked using a dictionary attack. You should also have different passwords for every online account you have, and get into the habit of changing the more important ones every few months.
#3. Check the Website’s Security Credentials
Whenever you’re shopping online or visiting any website that asks for login information, payment details or any other personal or financial data, you need to make sure that the website you’re on is secure. While your browser should warn you if a website that should be secure isn’t secure, you should also look out for the lock symbol yourself. If the website is secured using the transport layer security (TLS) protocol, you should see a small lock symbol next to the address or in a bar at the bottom of the window, depending on your browser. You should also make sure you are using the most up-to-date version of your preferred browser.
#4. Avoid Using Public Computers
Using public terminals for anything like online shopping or banking is just asking for trouble. However, many people make this mistake, thinking that logging out afterwards is safe enough. Nonetheless you’ll have no idea whether or not there’s any malicious software installed on the computer, and it’s easy to forget to log out as well. While using public computers is fine for comparison shopping, you should never use them for actually making purchases or doing anything else that involves entering password or payment information. If, for example, there’s a keylogger installed on the computer, your private or financial information will end up being compromised. The same applies when you’re out an about using a laptop or any other portable device connected to the Web through a public WiFi connection.
#5. Be Wary of Phishing Scams
Unfortunately, phishing scams are on the rise, and it’s extremely easy to encounter them, though most of them are quite obvious. A phishing scam may come in the form of an email or website purporting to be from a legitimate company. They are designed to collect information from unwitting users who think they’re dealing with a real company. When shopping online, you’re most likely to encounter phishing scams if you enter a Web address incorrectly. Scammers often use misspelled versions of websites or different domain extensions to capture information that people would otherwise only give to the genuine version of the website. If you receive a phishing email, it will probably ask you to provide login or financial information, despite the fact that no legitimate company would ever do this.
Most online scams can be easily avoided simply by learning to recognize what seems too good to be true. From coupon to lottery scams to emails from relatives of deceased Nigerian ‘princes’, there’s no shortage of dangers in the virtual world. Fortunately, however, all you need to avoid the vast majority of these dangers is some common sense and a basic understanding of some of the more common threats.