Question: How do I safely shop on the internet?

by | November 29, 2019 12:00 pm

Last Updated: November 27, 2019 at 11:21 am

Answer:

We are now entering the official Christmas shopping season, and more and more shopping is being done on the internet. (Of course, many of you were already buying for Christmas before now.) Here are several tips to help make your online shopping experience safer.

First, make sure the sites you’re entering personal information like passwords, credit cards numbers, debit card numbers, and bank account numbers into are secure sites.

You should also make sure that these websites are really affiliated with the organization you’re expecting the order from. To do this, look at the URL line (where the address of the webpage is displayed). The web address should begin with “https://” or a padlock in the locked position should be displayed in the URL line. These indicate your information is encrypted when it is transmitted, meaning no one can steal it as it goes through cyberspace.

Consider the cards you use for your online purchases and see which ones might offer online theft protection. I would suggest using those cards. A lot of credit cards nowadays offer full protection. Debit cards, however, only provide protection up to a certain limit set by federal regulations—and you usually have very tight notification rules when it comes to reporting money taken from the account the debit card is linked to. For all of these reasons, I strongly suggest using a credit card instead of a debit card unless your bank provides you written proof of full protection.

Another thing you can do is avoid following links from email advertising. Instead, type in the company’s name in the URL line. This will ensure that you’re going to the correct site because sometimes, fake emails can make their way into your inbox. The links on these emails will take you to unsafe spots where the scammers can obtain your card number and password.

Also, be careful of emails from shipping companies that ask you to click links about missed deliveries. Many of these are fake, and some carry ransomware in the link. I advise against clicking any links in the shipper’s email. If you have questions about a shipment, go to the company’s site and look up the order.

Don’t use public Wi-Fi to make purchases, either. These public connections are often broken into and allow thieves to steal information. (Public Wi-Fi is usually available at restaurants, motels, and so on.) It is perfectly fine to make purchases on your home Wi-Fi if you’re using WPA2 or better settings to secure your network.

This might go without saying, but don’t buy from companies you’ve never heard of that have absurdly cheap prices. Their “deals” are often a scam.

When you set up passwords on shopping sites (and for bank accounts and credit cards), make sure your password is unique. Doing this will help you in the long run if the company suffers a breach or if your password is somehow stolen. A unique password will prevent other people from being able to use it to get into other accounts.

Also, if you get an email that someone has your password, consider these things: Was that account or password any good? If the emailer is making strange claims like watching you, could they really, in fact, be doing the things they claim? My advice is to trash these kinds of emails.

If you know how to use a virtual private network (or VPN for short), you may want to use that, particularly if you’re using public Wi-Fi.

If you have a problem with an order you used a credit card with, your credit card issuer will often help resolve the problem.

Lastly, I remind you to make sure your operating system is fully updated and that your firewall and anti-virus programs are current. I also suggest an anti-spyware program that is current as well.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas shopping experience (and through the new year). Stay safe on the web!

Thanks, Glenda, for the question.

Send me your questions about computers to me at the paper or to my e-mail dwight@dwightwatt.com and tell me you read this in this paper. I will pick a question to answer each week.

Dwight Watt does computer work for businesses, individuals and organizations and teaches about computers at a college. His webpage is www.dwightwatt.com His e-mail address is dwight@dwightwatt.com.

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