5 safe shopping tips for buying online

IT’S hard to argue with the matchless ease and convenience that online shopping affords consumers. With the need to go out and visit a physical store eliminated, you can pretty much shop for anything you want or need anytime you feel like it. All you need is a computer or mobile device, a secure internet connection and a way to pay. And for many of us, keying in your credit card number on an online store’s checkout page and receiving a shiny new purchase on your doorstep a few days later can be an immensely pleasurable experience.

Following the worldwide boom in popularity of e-commerce, however, concerns about online security and cybercrime have also become increasingly prevalent. Bad faith actors such as scammers and hackers are naturally eager to take advantage of the fact that more and more people around the world are sharing their financial information online. Moreover, the tools and technology at their disposal are also more sophisticated than ever, leading to the proliferation of increasingly complex and exploitative schemes in recent years.

In these changing times, it’s especially important for online shoppers to protect their personal information and hard-earned money in digital spaces. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Here are a few simple but effective steps anyone can take to shop online more safely:

Investigate links closely before clicking

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Infecting victims’ computers with viruses, spyware and other malware is one of the most prevalent methods cybercriminals use to gain access to online accounts and steal their financial information. This malware can find its way onto your computer through seemingly harmless links, emails, instant messages and webpages, especially if you’re not careful about the links you click on while browsing the internet.

Protecting yourself from online scammers starts with being mindful of the links you click, particularly if they come in official-looking emails or other communications from banks and online marketplaces you patronize. Check for spelling errors, dummy links that take you to a different page than the URL suggests and other signs of suspicious activity. If you’re not sure if a particular link is legitimate, it always helps to call your service provider and confirm.

Consider getting a separate computer for online shopping and banking

If you can afford it or if you already have more than one computer, it might be wise to designate one PC exclusively for financial activities. These include online banking transactions, e-wallet transfers, online shopping and the like. Because you don’t use this computer for web browsing and other tasks, you can be fairly certain that it will be “clean” and free of viruses and other potentially compromising malware.

Have a dedicated email for online shopping

In a similar vein, it’s also wise to maintain a “clean” email address that you use exclusively for online shopping. This will bring down the number of spam messages you receive significantly, reducing your risk of opening a potentially fraudulent email. You’ll also be able to flag fake online shopping-related emails sent to your main email address as fraudulent communications from scammers. Fearmongering emails informing you of issues with an order or with one of your online accounts, for example, are likely to be fake and should be immediately deleted.

Use strong, unique passwords

Careful password management can make a huge difference when it comes to online safety, but it’s also a practice many internet users tend to overlook. Complex passwords with strings of different letters, numbers and special characters may be difficult to remember, but they’ll protect your online accounts much more effectively than short, simple passwords, containing easy-to-guess details such as your name and birthday.

Another frequently overlooked password management tip is that it’s best not to use the same password for multiple accounts. This is because hackers that manage to steal one of your passwords are likely to use it to gain access to other sites on which you also have accounts. If you have trouble remembering all your passwords, it may be a good idea to write them down and store the note in a safe place, or use a dedicated password manager app to keep track of them.

Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi connections

Nowadays, you’ll find free Wi-Fi available at coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls and all sorts of other public establishments. While these can be useful for browsing the internet or performing other minor tasks online, signing into a sensitive online account such as a bank account or a mobile wallet can pose a massive security risk. Hackers can hijack public Wi-Fi signals, spy on your online activity and steal your account details in this manner. Hence, if you need to make a purchase or access one of your more sensitive accounts while out in public, it’s best to do so using your mobile data instead.

Vet your sellers carefully

While scores of online sellers have been rushing to get in on the e-commerce craze, not all of them are legitimate. Even the most allegedly secure online marketplaces may still be hiding scammers that will attempt to take your money and leave you with an unfulfilled order. Before transacting with any online seller, scout around for testimonials, reviews and other evidence that people have bought items from them before.

Shopping online can be liberating and immensely enjoyable, but your experience will be all the better if you protect yourself while doing so. A combination of vigilance, common sense, and good digital hygiene will enable you to shop smarter and enjoy yourself to the fullest.


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