Tips for safe online shopping

Safe online shopping
Credit cards are the safest choice when it comes to online shopping. PHOTO/COURTESY
A growing number of people around the world are turning to the Internet to shop for goods and services due to convenience, best bargains and the wide variety of choices the web presents.

The rise in e-commerce has, unfortunately, attracted the attention of cyber criminals out to take advantage of unwary customers through deception or invasion.

Unlike when you walk in a store where all you need as a safety measure is to guard your wallet, online shopping requires more vigilance to avoid falling into the hands of fraudsters.

As such, before you key in your credit card number and click ‘pay’, be sure to take the following precautionary measures:

1). Conduct research
Gather adequate background information on unfamiliar retailers. Obtain telephone contact details and a physical address if possible.

Look for recommendation and reviews from reliable sources to establish whether other clients had good or bad experiences and avoid unreviewed stores or those without favourable reviews.

Check the store’s privacy policy, return policy, shipping fees and whether they provide tracking and insurance. Trust your gut and avoid stores that give you a bad feeling.

2). Stick with trusted brands
Trust is very crucial in all financial transactions. Shopping from a popular merchant gives you confidence on the quality and pricing of the product.

It is also advantageous if you know the merchant’s brick and mortar store since you can walk in for assistance in case of any problem.

However, you should be cautious since cyber criminals often create fake replicas of well-known websites and use them to defraud unsuspecting customers.

3). Use safe payment options
Credit cards are the safest choice when it comes to online shopping. This is because they have a spending limit and are not linked to any cash you own unlike debit cards.

Nowadays, there are one-off virtual credit card numbers that allow you to make purchases online without exposing your actual account number. The service allows you to set the specific amount of money you intend to use and the time frame in which to use it, usually a very short time span.

You can also use secure online payment modes such as PayPal which act as middle men ensuring your account details are not seen by the merchant.

4). Avoid public networks
Public Wi-Fi has become a common feature in most public places including restaurants, shops, airports, libraries and public transport vehicles just to name a few.

Be advised that when using public network such as a Wi-Fi hot spot, strangers can pick up any information you send through the internet, resulting in identity theft.

Most Wi-Fi hot-spots do not encrypt data and you should therefore only use your personal protected network.

5). Buy from secure sites only
Always buy from sites that have SSL (secure sockets layer) indicated by the presence of an ‘s’ in the URL address. The URL address of a secured site will begin with https:// while unsecured sites have http:// only. The extra ‘s’ is an indicator that all your personal information has been encrypted before being sent into cyberspace.

In addition, there is an icon of a locked padlock in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser. You can also check for the site certification by clicking on the padlock to view the website owner and who verified it.

Do not click on any pop ups and links in emails from unknown sites, rather, type the URL manually to avoid getting tricked into fake sites where the fraudsters have changed the spelling or the top-level domain such as ‘.net’ instead of ‘.com’.