Shopping online can be convenient and help you find great prices on exactly the item you're hoping to buy. However, shopping online can also allow your personal information to be spread places that you didn't plan it to go. These ten tips can help make sure your identity and information remains safe:
- Keep your computer's anti-virus, anti-virus and firewall software up to date. Use pop-up blockers to make shopping easier and also protect you from fraudulent sites that look like they are part of the legitimate site you are shopping.
- Stick with familiar sellers. If using a company you don't know, check for the Better Business Bureau OnLine or TRUSTe logo. Check online ratings companies such as Epinions or Bizrate to hear about other customers' experiences. Look for a street address and working telephone number. If using an auction site, check the sellers feedback rating.
- Use a complicated password. Think up some way to remember them or keep them listed somewhere safe and away from your computer. Use a variety of numbers and letters, including both lower case and capitals.
- Check policies and terms carefully before purchasing. Look especially for shipping and handling fees and return fees and procedures.
- When giving out personal information, look for the "https" or "shttp" at the beginning of the website address. The "s" means secure. You can also look for the closed lock or unbroken key symbol at the bottom of your page. (The site probably won't go to secure until the ordering page, so don't be worried if it is a regular http address while you are shopping.) Don't send payment information through email as it is not secure.
- Be aware that personal information is collected every time you fill out a form online. If a site looks sketchy, don't do business with them. Never enter personal information in a pop-up window or screen.
- Pay carefully. Under federal law, credit cards allow you to dispute payment if you don't receive what you've ordered, however, they also share your credit card details with the merchant. Services such as PayPay and Revolution Money keep your personal payment information private, but they offer less ability to dispute payments if something is wrong with the order. Debit cards and checks offer the least protection. Many sites try to retain your credit card information for future purchases - think carefully about whether this is something you want to do. Some credit card companies offer "virtual" credit card numbers, which are one time use numbers that are linked to your real credit card number.
- Keep a printed copy of your order, and hold on to it until after you are sure that everything is OK with the purchase.
- Don't open unsolicited email. Delete it without opening. Do not purchase anything through an unsolicited email.
- Keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements. Dispute unknown or unauthorized transactions immediately.
Online shopping can be convenient, cost-effective and fun. By making sure to hit all these points while you shop, you can avoid any problems that could make it a problem.