Financial Advice

Labor Day Deals: How to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

The deluge of emails touting Labor Day shopping deals, sales and clearances has begun. And while there are deals to be had in stores, many shoppers will go online this weekend to shop.

Online shopping is fast, easy and incredibly convenient, but it’s important to remember that the information we share on the Internet could easily fall into the wrong hands. From fake digital storefronts to email phishing scams, there are numerous ways scammers and hackers are working to steal innocent people’s valuable personal info. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to make keep yourself safe while making purchases online. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your personal info stays secure.

1. If a Site Looks Unsafe, It Probably Is

Using common sense when visiting any online store can go a long way. If a site’s design is messy, has a nonsensical web address, or has an inordinate amount of pop-up windows, chances are it probably isn’t a safe space. However, just because a site may have an appealing design and doesn’t bombard you with ads, doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. Checking for accreditations from highly regarded institutions like the Better Business Bureau and consulting consumer protection sites like Fraud.org can give you a better idea of a site’s trustworthiness. Bottom line: If you don’t feel comfortable shopping there, don’t hand over any personal information. That includes your email address, phone number and name. Just because you’ve shielded your credit card number doesn’t mean you’re home free.

2. Make Sure Your Communications Are Encrypted

Before giving away any of your personal information on a website, it’s important to make sure that the site itself is secure.

Most browsers will display a small, closed padlock icon inside the address bar when your connection to a website is encrypted. Essentially, encryption is a way for websites to transform information so that it can only be read by the intended recipient. So, in the case of an online purchase, a website may encrypt the page where you enter your credit card number so that only they’ll be able to see what you entered. You can also check to see if your connection with a site is secure by looking at the URL. Sites with URLs that begin with “https” are secured by what’s called an SSL certificate, which is essentially another way of indicating communication between yourself and the site is encrypted.

You also need to make sure the Internet access you are using is secure. The site may be safe and using proper encryption, but if you are putting out personal information over an unsafe Internet connection you may find yourself with an even bigger problem. Avoid using a public WiFi connection whenever possible. And if you absolutely have to use one, limit the amount of personal information you’re accessing and inputting. Identity thieves and fraudsters aren’t just after your credit card number, they want your login credentials, your answers to security questions and other personally identifying information that can be used to hack the more valuable parts of your identity and finances. Vigilance is key. Monitor your financial accounts regularly and if you believe your identity has been compromised, you may also want to monitor your credit for signs of new account fraud. (You can keep an eye on your credit scores for free on Credit.com, which updates your scores every 30 days.)

3. Keep a Paper Trail

Keeping a record of your online transactions can be a big help in the event you need to dispute a fraudulent charge. To make sure you have everything you need, print a copy or save a screenshot of the product’s page, price, your receipt, and any correspondences with the item’s seller. Should you find any unauthorized charges on your credit card’s statement, call your bank or credit card company immediately. With the information you’ve saved, you should be able to quickly resolve any issues.

It’s also important to note when making online purchases that some credit cards have better protections than others if your purchase isn’t received in good condition, breaks or was misrepresented in some way. The details of each of each credit card’s purchase protection program should be in your cardholder agreement. If you plan to use a credit card often for online shopping, you may want to consider shopping around for a credit card with the best purchase protection plan.

4. Beware of Phishing

While it might be normal to receive an order confirmation email, being asked to click a link or download an attachment to confirm an order is not. Beware of phishing scams and malware spammers who may try to trick you into surrendering valuable information. While many emails of this nature are sorted into spam folders, it isn’t unheard of for one to sneak its way through. However, providing you exercise caution and use some good old-fashioned common sense while checking your emails, you should be able to keep yourself safe from these attacks. Also, never be afraid to call the retailer directly at the customer service line on its website to confirm if an email is from them before clicking a link.

In the end, keeping yourself safe while making online purchases simply boils down to having some basic knowledge of the Internet and using common sense. Providing you’re able to recognize the red flags, have a reliable way to check a website’s quality, and refrain from engaging in any sort of risky transactions, you should be able to shop online without worry.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Leslie Tayne was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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