What’s not to like about online shopping? You could shop at odd hours, hunt for the best deal, and choose from variety of options. With a few clicks, you could easily purchase an item and then wait for it to arrive at your doorstep. It is so simple, so convenient.
However, keep in mind that online shopping has its fair share of risks. Your ecstasy from scoring a great deal could turn into a nightmare upon discovering that you have fallen victim to a scam or gotten your credit card number stolen.
Below are seven precautions that could help to protect your online shopping experience from threats that are lurking behind the cloud.
Don’t enter sensitive information on a public computer
Avoid entering sensitive data such as credit card number and online banking log-in credentials on a public computer. With so many people using the machine, it is possible that a malicious or risky program might have been installed there, whether intentionally or accidentally. For instance, someone could get ahold of your credit card number through a keylogger program and use it to make unauthorized purchases, or replicate the card.
And, always remember to log out properly of a session and clear the cookie. You don’t want the next user to be able to view information from your session or use your credentials. It is also a good habit to use Private Browsing when on a public computer.
Protect and keep your system up-to-date
Your personal computer at home is safer, but it doesn’t fully guarantee your online safety as it could still be compromised from your other activities. Security measures on a website such as layering the site with cryptographic protocol, works to protect your data from being exposed to snooping party but it cannot protect from what has already inhabited the computer system.
Therefore, make sure that your system is applied with the latest patches to protect from any exploits, and your security software is updated to the recent version to be able to detect new malware that might have sneaked into the system.
Check the credibility of the seller
The rise of online business provides an opportunity for small, independent sellers to operate without the presence of a physical store. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for scammers to hide their real identity and obtain easy money by deceiving people.
If you decided to make a purchase, spend a little time to learn more about the seller. And, read on the return and exchange policy as well. Contact the seller to resolve any doubt or question you might have. If your doubt still persists, it is probably wise to abandon your purchase plan and look somewhere else. Trust your common judgment if something seemed amiss.
Note the security of the transaction
Before proceeding to enter the credit cards details, pay attention to the security of the transaction. Is the channel secure? The easiest way is to look for “https” address in the toolbar, which indicates that cryptographic protocol is being implemented to prevent the data exchanged from being intercepted by man-in-the-middle.
Avoid paying through wire transfer
It is understandable why some independent sellers ask customers to use wire transfer as a method for payment. It is less hassle, and cost less (or nothing) compared to using a third party service like PayPal to handle the payment.
However, I always find myself cancelling the purchase upon discovering that the payment has to be made by wire transfer. Besides of the fact that I keep worrying how my account is directly linked to some stranger’s account in that one transaction, there is the matter of a lack of buyer protection in case that something goes awry (e.g., didn’t received item).
Choose credit card over debit card
For online purchases, you would benefit from a better buyer protection by charging those expenses on a credit card rather than a debit card. In case of a fraud, if reported within 60 days, credit card limits USD50 liability for unauthorized purchase while the limit for debit card is USD500. That means you could lose up to USD500 if your debit card is used for fraudulent charge, compared to losing USD50 maximum if similar case happened to your credit card.
Moreover, a compromised debit card poses more threat as it is directly linked to your checking account. In other words, it gives the thief an access to your cash.
Ask for a one-time-use credit card
Keep your credit card number undisclosed, even to the merchant, and use a substitute number instead. Selected banks offer a security feature in which you can use a software-generated credit card number for online purchases. This number is linked to the credit card account and is only valid for one transaction only, thus, reducing the risk of unauthorized charge.
Citibank provides this feature under the name Virtual Account Number, while Bank of America offers something similar called ShopSafe®. Consult your bank to learn if such feature is also available for your use.
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