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Safe Cyber Shopping Tips

It’s the Holiday shopping season and savvy shoppers everywhere know the best deals of the year can be found in the few days immediately after Thanksgiving. The bravest of us get up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday to stand in ridiculously long lines and fight (sometimes literally) crowds of people for the hottest toys or gadgets at rock bottom prices. Some of us who may be less concerned about buying cheap than about buying local will get out and shop on Small Business Saturday. For the rest of us (and, perhaps, some of the above as well), who prefer to sit in the comfort of our own homes or offices while we search for the perfect budget-friendly gifts for Grandma and Uncle Bob, there’s Cyber Monday.

If you happen to be reading this on Tuesday or Wednesday (or any other day, really), don’t despair. You have not missed the boat on Cyber Monday shopping tips. As a matter of fact, Forbes reports that this year it’ll be more like “Cyber Week,” as online retailers have realized that offering super deals throughout the week can be very lucrative. For instance, this year Amazon plans on keeping the Cyber Monday deals coming for eight full days.

Whether you have caught this column in time for the so-called Cyber Week or long after, the following tips will help you have a safe online shopping experience any day of the year.
Be sure you have a secure internet connection before entering any personal information.
Identity thieves can easily siphon the details of your credit card and bank account information from transactions you conduct on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks such as coffee shops and restaurants. Reserving all online shopping activity for times when you can access a trusted, private, password protected network or VPN (virtual private network) is your first line of defense against cyber criminals.

Pay close attention to your address bar.
Only enter payment information on secure web pages. How can you tell if a page is secure? Look at the URL in the address (aka, browser) bar at the top of the page. If it begins with http:// it’s not secure. If it says https:// it is. The ‘s’ in “https” stands for secure, meaning sensitive information will be encrypted. On most reputable sites a lock icon will also appear in the address bar of secure pages.

Another important detail to be aware of when shopping online is the exact wording and spelling of a web address. Look-alike websites are a common scam you need to be aware of. Type in a .net instead of a .com or misspell a company’s name and you could end up losing a lot of money on a fake website designed by scammers to trick you into thinking you’re shopping at a legitimate online store. Scammers also hook you into fake websites through links embedded on Facebook pages, emails and other such indirect means. Your best bet is to always type an online retailer’s web address directly into the address bar rather than clicking links.

Pay for online purchases with credit cards
, not debit cards. Credit cards offer the greatest protection against identity theft and fraud, as they generally have purchase protection and fraud dispute mechanisms built in. Debit cards, which are directly linked to your personal checking account, do not. A hacker with your debit card information has more direct access to all the hard earned money in your checking account than he would with your credit card.

If you can't, or don't want to, use credit cards the next best thing is to use prepaid debit cards. While they don't offer the same level of fraud protection as a credit card, they are more secure than a debit card linked to your checking account. Your personal information is not attached to a prepaid debit card, so if it gets hacked identity theft is not likely. Thieves can only access the amount of money you've loaded onto the card, so it makes sense to purchase a handful of cards with relatively small balances rather than load your entire shopping budget onto one card.

Read the fine print.
Check for hidden shipping and handling costs before you make a purchasing decision. Some online "deals" could end up costing you more after you add shipping and handling costs than it would cost to buy the same item for "regular" price at a brick and mortar store. Reputable online retailers will be up front about shipping costs.

Be sure to also check the online store’s delivery and return policies. Another common scam is to send faulty or fake merchandise and then refuse to issue a refund.

Holiday shopping is stressful enough without having to worry about falling victim to identity theft and other cyber crimes. By following the preceding four tips you can have a rewarding and virtually worry-free internet shopping experience. Isn’t that why we shop online anyway, to make holiday shopping a little less stressful?

Sources:, NPR,,
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Tuesday, 14 July 2020

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