Online Shopping Tips Before Buying Products

The Internet is a great resource and can be a powerful tool for finding information, shopping, and communicating. But, just like everything else in life, you need to be careful using it. There are some bad people who will try to steal your information online, but if you take the proper precautions, identity theft will be unlikely to happen to you.



Before You Shop Online

• Contact your bank and find out about their policies regarding identity theft. It is also important to know these policies about your credit cards. Will you be held responsible for purchases made with your information, should it be stolen? 

• Consider installing anti-virus software on your computer. Antivirus software for one computer is typically less than $50, depending on the brand and protection period (i.e., some antivirus software is only good for a year). The most popular brands of anti-virus software are Symantec/Norton and McAfee. You can buy anti-virus software anywhere computers are sold. Talk with a sales associate at a computer store in order to determine which program best suits your needs. 

• After you install anti-virus software on your computer, you will need to update it frequently (most programs will do this automatically). Just like real viruses, computer viruses can change quickly over time. Consider an anti-virus update like getting your annual flu shot, except needed more often. 

• Be aware of the variety of scams that appear on the Internet. As a general rule, if you get an offer from an unknown e-mail address (or even an e-mail forwarded on from a friend!) that sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. 

Staying Safe Online

• Shop on secure websites. When you log in with your account information, a secure website’s address will begin with “https://” instead of “http://”. This stands for a secure HTTP connection. If you are using Internet Explorer, a padlock should appear in the top right-hand corner of the address bar in your internet browser window. Many sites will also have some form of a verification symbol to show that company complies with the highest form of encryption and security. 

• Always read a website’s privacy policy before providing any information. If something doesn’t sound right, don’t give them your information! You wouldn’t hand your credit card to just anyone on the street, so don’t do it online. Making websites is easier than you think, and sometimes crooks can create very legitimate-seeming websites. 

• Smaller websites often use PayPal, a middleman company that exclusively handles online purchases. Using PayPal is generally considered safe, but always read the privacy policy and beware of imposters! 

• Legitimate websites will never ask for your credit card number or other personal information by e-mail, so never trust e-mails that request this information, even if it appears that the e-mail came from PayPal or Amazon.com. Also, don’t click on any links in the e-mail if it requests this sort of information—it’s probably a scam.

• Deal with businesses that are accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Businesses that are accredited by the BBB are committed to solving consumer complaints. These businesses assure a method of recourse if something goes wrong during your transaction. 

• If you’re not sure, stick to the websites of large companies you’re already familiar with from their physical stores—they’re more likely to have a secure website. For example, you probably recognize and would trust Target.com or Bestbuy.com. Other popular online shopping sites include Amazon.com (books, music, etc.), Zappos.com (shoes), and Etsy.com (DIY apparel). 

Protecting Your Identity

There are several key behaviors that can help ensure that your identity is protected online,

• If you have anti-virus software on your computer, be sure to periodically update it. This will keep newer viruses from infecting your computer. 

• Do not open .exe files sent to you via e-mail if you do not trust the source. .Exe files can install spy software or other viruses on your computer that can be difficult to remove. 

• Anti-virus software will sometimes remove links from e-mail messages if they have been flagged as malware (malicious software). If you occasionally get emails missing links, your anti-virus software is working! 

• Do not forward chain e-mails. Chain e-mails often prey on sympathy, contain jokes, or include vague threats (e.g., “Someone will die of cancer if you do not forward this e-mail”). Computer programmers can collect e-mail addresses and information from these e-mails, so it is best to ignore them. 

• Use a secure browser when making purchases online, and avoid storing passwords and personal information on your computer.