photo: Georgijevic/iStock

Six Steps for Hassle-Free Online Shopping

By Karen Cho

Winter’s hit us with a vengeance with plunging temperatures and record snowfall—in November. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just round the corner and you’ve been eyeing that 65-inch OLED TV for months. Do you put on that parka and boots and prepare to wait outside the store for that sweet deal, or do you settle comfortably in front of your fireplace with your mobile device and start shopping? If you’re inclined toward the latter but worry about the fallout from online shopping, we’ve got some tips to allay your fears and perhaps restore confidence in your e-shopping experience.

First off, the URL of any retail site you visit should start with “https” rather than “http”. The s at the end of the former stands for “secure,” and means that communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. You should also see a padlock symbol located in the address bar at the top. (An unsecured site is, by default, taking fewer steps to keep your information safe.)

Type the full URL instead of copying and pasting the address; some typo-squatting sites look exactly like the real site but are set up to phish your account information. If you click on a link and get instantly redirected, that site may have been hacked and may contain malware. That’s your cue to beat a hasty retreat. If you’re an avid mobile shopper of a particular store, download its official online shopping app for secure transactions. Apps are more secure online-shopping channels than websites since malicious hackers need to create specific attacks for specific apps.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. When a site offers products at prices that significantly lower than major retailers, your Spidey senses should be tingle. Like when you see an online ad for Michael Kors handbags going for a song, it’s probably a fake site, or the merchant is selling counterfeit products but promoting them as the real thing. Alarm bells should also go off when you spot spelling or grammatical errors on the site. Don’t get duped. It’s better to pay more and buy from trusted sites and sellers.

Three things you should never share on the internet

So you want to venture beyond Amazon, eBay and the other big-box online stores? We say go for it—but not without first doing some online sleuthing. Find out more about the site’s business history and do a web search for reviews from other buyers who’ve had experience dealing with the seller. Legitimate merchants should provide you with contact information for questions or problems with your transaction, as well as information on warranties and their return policy.

Online transactions that require banking or financial information should be done on a secure and private network. Avoid public or shared computers and free Wi-Fi, as they can be more easily compromised by hackers. Never make financial transactions while using an open Wi-Fi network (i.e. one that doesn’t require a password), no matter how few people are connected to it.

Strong passwords are less prone to hacking so if you don’t think you have a unique hard-to-crack password, it’s time for a reset. Don’t reuse passwords across multiple accounts, and remember to change them periodically.

Anatomy of a secure online password

Online shoppers who pay by credit over debit are offered more protection. A debit card has your cash in your bank account while a credit card company foots the bill until you pay for it. That means that if a fraudulent charge occurs on your debit card, the funds are immediately withdrawn from your account and you have to fight to get your money back. If a fraudulent charge occurs on your credit card, the card issuer fights to get their money back. Some card issuers will even take care of the investigation details on your behalf—which is why some credit card companies limit your liability for online purchases in cases of fraud.

Once you’ve hit checkout, the deed is done and if the site is fraudulent, you’ve put your pertinent information in the hands of cybercriminals, making you vulnerable to identity theft and credit card fraud. You don’t need to miss out on good online deals, you just need to think before you click.