Thinking of online shopping? Here’s how to stay safe

A computer screen with an e-commerce shopping cart checkout web page.

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Shopping online can be more convenient than going to stores. It’s easy and stress-free because you don’t have to travel or squeeze through crowds in a department store. You just sit in your chair, choose items on your screen, provide a few data, and then click – you’re done. Delivery is on the way. And if you buy enough merchandize, shipping is free. For us newcomers, buying online could also be a good option for sending holiday presents to loved ones back home.

How much Canadians spend online by province, Global News.

Other reasons for trying online shopping:

  1. More savings – because many online stores do not have to spend for the upkeep and operations of an actual store (electricity, staffing, etc.), they can offer their merchandize at a cheaper rate. They also offer more discounts and special offers online.
  2. Unique items –you can find one-of-a-kind items online that are not offered at regular stores.
  3. Wider selection of goods – you can go to one site and shop for anything from clothes to cars. There are also sites that offer second-hand goods and brand new ones. In some sites, you have a greater choice of brands, even handcrafted merchandize.
  4. Easy to compare prices – you don’t have to drive from store to store to compare prices. Just check out different sites. Some online stores even do it for you.
  5. Returns are easy – if your main concern is that you might get the wrong size, color or model, returns are easy especially for e-retailers that have physical stores. But just like with regular retail stores, be aware about return policies before making a purchase.

But still, many of us don’t trust online shopping. This is understandable. The web is swimming with hundreds of fraudulent and phishing sites. And I’m sure you’ve heard one or two stories about people who have been swindled by fake websites. So before you start clicking and buying, learn to keep your financial transactions safe and secure with the following tips:

Tips for safe online shopping:

  1. Use only safe websites – Go straight to trusted stores instead of searching online. Examples are popular companies like Amazon, Etsy, eBay as well as the online counterparts of well-known retailers like Costco, Best Buy, Home Depot, and others (see Community Resources below). Don’t click on a link from a spam email that leads you to a website. Definitely never buy anything from a site advertised in a spam email.
  2. Look at the URL – Always check if the web address starts with “https” (not just http). There should also be an icon of a locked padlock on the address bar. These are marks of a secure site. Beware of misspellings or a different domain, for instance .net instead of .com. In general, steer clear of sites that have numerous misspellings, grammatical errors and too many ads. These are not only annoying, these are sure signs that it is a fraudulent site.
  3. Do not provide confidential info – Take it as a red flag when a site asks for your SIN or birth date. You can opt to sign-up for Paypal if you intend to be a frequent online shopper. It will allow you to pay via credit card without having to share your financial information.
  4. Have a good password – Create passwords combining letters, numbers and symbols. It will also be safer to create different passwords for different sites. Read Password Protection: How to Create Strong Passwords by Eric Griffith for tips.
  5. Don’t use public computers – Don’t use computers in the library or at a café for online shopping. It can be easy for passers-by (or someone sitting behind you) to see your screen when you key-in information. Also, you might forget to log-out. Another person may use your account or steal information.
  6. Always check your statements – Read your credit card statements or check your account online regularly. Be on the look-out for transactions you don’t remember doing. If there are discrepancies, call the bank immediately.
  7. Understand terms of use – Read and understand the site’s rules and regulations before buying anything. Check provisions on delivery/shipping, returns, discounts, and other details. These vary by item in many online stores. Always know the number to call should you have questions or complaints.
  8. Use a good data security software – Security software will add a layer of protection against spyware, viruses, and other threats and assures you that your credit card and other personal details will not be recorded or copied.

11 Tips for safe online shopping by Eric Griffith, PC Mag; Tips for online shopping-When making a purchase, McAfee Security Advice Center; 12 of the best online shopping sites for Canadians, Cyla Panin, Buzzfeed; Best online shopping sites, Jamey Ordolis, CBC.

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Community Resources

Good Housekeeping magazine warns consumers against 8 online retailers: 8 online retailers you should never order from, Alessandra Dubin, April 29, 2016.

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