Digital Expert Shares Tips for Online Shopping Safety

By Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified November 27, 2018

More and more of us are shopping online for the best deals and selection, as well as the convenience of getting it all done from the comfort of our sofas! But there are perils to online shopping that everyone should be aware of:

Be careful clicking links in suspicious emails

Phishing emails are fake emails that scammers create to look real so that the recipient will think they are from a legitimate company. The emails ask for the recipient’s personal information and includes links for them to access. 

The goal is to steal the recipient’s personal information, so if you receive an order confirmation email from a company you never ordered from, it should be a red flag. Order confirmation emails immediately follow the order. If you receive an email claiming to have been sent from a company, but the email address isn’t the official address of the company, it should be a red flag. If you receive an email containing a deal and asking you to click on a link to access the deal, don’t do it!  Instead, go to the store’s official site to access the deal.

To avoid identity theft, use prepaid cards and mobile payment options

Mobile payment options, like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, are better choices than credit cards for shopping because they’re more difficult for scammers to hack into for your personal information. With mobile payments, there’s no need to share the physical credit card information. 

Another option, a prepaid card, is a safer choice than a credit card because it’s not linked to your bank account or your credit history. Therefore, should a scammer hack into the site where you’ve shopped, they have no access to your financial information.

Beware of fake coupon sites that ask for your info

Facebook is full of fake coupons. These coupons, when accessed, will either install malware onto your system or lead you to a survey where you’ll be asked to enter your personal information. To be safe, check that the coupon link takes you to the actual business associated with the coupon. In addition, if the coupon claims that a large retailer is offering a discount in excess of 25 percent without any exclusions, it’s likely a scam. 

Research the companies you are buying from

Shopping online from well-known online retailers is typically safer than venturing out into unknown territory. However, some shoppers are interested in finding the best deals. This may lead to shopping online from unknown sites which promise much lower prices for similar products. 

Prior to making an online purchase on an unfamiliar site, it’s important to review the site for legitimacy. Pay attention to the user reviews in addition to the badges from consumer protection agencies. Look for any negative reports about the company. 

Only buy from secured sites

When you make an online purchase, you are providing your financial information. This is, in itself, a risk. As such, it’s important to take measures to minimize that risk. Make sure you’re shopping from a legitimate online retailer. Check to ensure that the URL starts with “https,” which indicates that the website is secured. The “s” at the end signifies an additional security layer referred to as the “secured socket layer.”

Check for security labels like Verisign and McAfee, both of which are well-known. Stay away from websites that will only accept money orders or wire transfers as methods of payments. Legitimate sites should include third-party payment services such as Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal as accepted methods of payment. 

Surf safely

Update your web browser — surfing the web without an updated browser is like swimming with sharks. It’s not really a matter of if, but when, a cybercriminal will spot you — floundering on the Internet without a cage — and attack. Web browsers often have security updates that require a browser update to take effect. To make sure you’re using the latest version, visit the homepage of the browser you’re using; it will let you know directly when you arrive on the page.

Download a firewall AND antivirus software — a firewall can be described as a traffic cop directing cars at an intersection. It enforces security by blocking unauthorized or potentially dangerous material on the Internet from getting to your computer. Anti-virus software makes sure malicious software is detected and removed from your computer. With a little research, you can choose which firewall and antivirus software are right for your computer. Or you can go with one of the security suites recommends for 2018 as a one-stop solution. Most of the suites include antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, parental control, and some sort of additional privacy protection such as protection against phishing sites.

Be cautious with public Wi-Fi — never do any online shopping, banking, or other sensitive online activities on a public Wi-Fi network.

Online scams to avoid:

  • There are many overseas clothing companies today offering “gorgeous and trendy” clothes for next to nothing. They show images of the clothes on models that look amazing. But what you see on their site and what you get are usually two different things — cheap fabrics, unrealistic sizing, and impossible returns and refunds. Your best bet is to stick to well-known U.S. companies and companies with positive reviews. And remember you usually get what you pay for!
  • Many hackers will use big names like PayPal and eBay in the "sent from" section of emails, so it is important to ignore unknown emails. If you open the email and aren’t sure of its validity, just click on the name in the “sent from” box to view the actual email address. Most times you’ll realize right away that it’s not actually a business email address from PayPal, eBay, or another well-known institution. If you don’t recognize the sender, your best bet is to not open the email — period — and never click on a link, attachment, or file within an email you’re unsure about. This is how hackers insert malware on your computer and are able to access your personal information. 
  • Use due diligence when dealing with small merchants! If you're dealing with a small merchant, you can verify whether the person is associated with the business by doing a search and connecting their DBA or LLC with the individual's name. Just confirm the business name and location with the individual who is emailing you. Sometimes you can track their area code back to their area of business as well to help confirm it is legitimate. Consider the customer service options the website offers. Check a company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau, look at review sites or even search a retailer’s name along with “scam" to see if it checks out. The BBB is also a valuable tool to learn about new scams circulating.  

Justin Lavelle is the Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified, a leading source of online background checks and contact information. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses, property records, and criminal records in a way that’s fast, easy, and affordable. The company helps people discover, understand, and use public data in their everyday lives. Lavelle is an expert in the prevention of identity theft and online scams.