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Shopping Safely Online

Article and audio introduction by Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences

Back in June, I wrote about a variety of tips that can help consumers stay safe online. This month, I want to revisit that topic again, with a closer look more specifically at online shopping.  With the ease, convenience, and popularity of internet shopping, it is especially important to take certain precautions before filling that online shopping cart.

Shopping online is a wonderful thing.  Or can be, at least, if done correctly.  Any time day or night, from the comfort of home, products can be browsed, prices can be compared, and items can be ordered from nearly anywhere in the world.

However, with convenience often comes pitfalls. Not all online shopping sites are created equal. By understanding the sources of potential danger and following a few simple precautions, consumers can help ensure their online shopping experience is safe.

Keep These Online Shopping Tips in Mind

Never shop from sellers that seem untrustworthy. If a shopping site looks unprofessional, contains typos, or lacks the seller’s contact information, do not use it. Check the site for testimonials from other customers. Contact the Better Business Bureau to see a company’s rating.

It may sound counterintuitive, but credit cards are the best way to pay for things online. There are laws that minimize a consumer’s liability for fraudulent credit card charges. However, the same level of protection may not exist for debit card charges, which can really put consumers in a financial bind, since these cards are linked directly to bank accounts.

online shopping

Phone-based shopping apps can be an easy and convenient way to shop anytime, anywhere. But before tapping that “Buy Now” button, make sure the app is secure. (Photo credit: Samantha Kennedy)

Using online payment gateways such as PayPal or Apple Pay, when available, are also a great way to protect personal financial information. Linking a low-limit credit card to these accounts instead of a debit card is still a smart thing to do, however.

Before purchasing anything from any online vendor – especially one that has never been used before – take a few minutes to make sure it is a safe place to shop. In the upper left-hand corner of the website, look for the “https” preceding the web address. The “s” means it is a secure website. Also, look for the padlock icon next to web address.  If the padlock is closed, it is safe to continue.

Research the site’s privacy policies, as well as any terms and conditions, and return or refund policies. It is important to know just how the site intends to store and use personal financial information. (This goes for phone-based shopping apps as well.) Also, if it is not easy to get a refund or return an item, avoid using that shopping site.

Protect Yourself

Online attackers seek to steal from consumers by trying to trick them into thinking a website or email is from a legitimate source. Beware of emails from sellers that request purchase confirmation in the form of personal information of any kind. Legitimate vendors will never ask for this type of information over email. Never click on a link embedded in an email, especially emails from unknown vendors, and never share sensitive personal or financial information over email.

RESOURCE: Find more great tips for shopping safely online from the Federal Trade Commission.

Installing software to protect against malicious code and viruses is another positive step towards avoiding becoming a victim of a cyber attack. Unprotected computers are easily hacked and invaded, allowing cybercriminals to steal any data stored on the hard drive.

Online shopping is a great way to purchase products that may not be available locally as well as to get them at the best possible price. The ability to purchase items online is one of the greatest achievements of the internet and is a huge part of today’s consumer market. However, as with anything, there are potential pitfalls. By knowing what to look for and following a few easy precautions, online shopping can be fun and safe.

For more information about online shopping or other online safety tips, please call Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences agent with the Wakulla County Extension office, at (850) 926-3931.

Extension programs are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

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