Shopping online is a pleasure. No traffic, no crowds, no searching for a parking spot. In 2010, Internet commerce totaled $165.4 billion and continues to grow. At the same time, scams are growing, too. More than $246 million in losses were reported by Americans in 2010 and has steadily increased since then.
You need to protect yourself. While shopping on legitimate, well-known sites belonging to your favorite department store or specialty shop is probably not going to be a problem, lesser-known sites that come up when you’re looking for a bargain and using a search engine for something specific could be places for concern. The same can be said for auction sites.
Here’s what you can do to ensure that online shopping is as secure as a trip to the mall:
1. Call the retailer first. If you’re not sure about the website’s legitimacy, pick up the phone and try the number that is listed. Anyone can set up a website today, and it doesn’t take much to look like a Fortune 500 company. Before entering your credit card number, see if you can talk to a live person.
2. Use a search engine to check out the retailer. Did anyone post a less-than-positive review about the site you’re about to order from?
3. Look for a ‘Buy Safe’ seal. Buy Safe is a company that certifies online sellers as being reliable.
4. Make sure the site is encrypted. Encrypted websites have a URL that begins with the letters ‘https’ and not just ‘http’. Look also for an SSL certificate or a pop-up window telling you you’re entering a secure site. If it’s not secure, don’t shop the site.
5. Use your credit card, which offers more protection than a check. Other options for online payments are PayPal or Escrow.com.
6. Don’t input any more information than what is necessary. There’s no reason why a company you’re ordering a sweatshirt from needs your date of birth, social security number or income level. Anyone asking for that type of information is either selling it to others for marketing purposes or is engaged in identity theft.
7. Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mails by clicking on links that are embedded in the e-mail. Instead, find the site yourself through a search engine or type it manually if you know it.
Shopping online may be convenient, but being safely at home doesn’t ensure that you’re safe. Exercise caution while you shop online, just as you would carefully guard your cash when shopping at a mall or department store.