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

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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 (especially on Black Friday or Boxing Day). You just sit in your chair, choose items on your screen, provide some information 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 – Some online stores do not have to spend for the upkeep and operations of an actual store (electricity, staffing, etc.) so they can offer their merchandize at a cheaper rate. They also offer more discounts and special offers online.
  2. Unique items – You can find items online that are one of a kind and not offered at regular stores.
  3. Wider selection of goods – There are sites that offer anything from clothes to cars. Some offer second-hand goods and brand new ones. You even have a greater choice of brands, including handcrafted merchandize, online.
  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 price-match 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, its smart to be aware of return policies before making a purchase.

There may be some of us who still don’t trust online shopping, and this is understandable. The web is teeming with hundreds of fraudulent and phishing sites. Plus, I’m sure you’ve heard about one or two stories about people who have been swindled on 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. Stay away from unheard of sites, especially those that have a lot of pop-up ads on their page (see Community Resources below for the 8 online retailers you should never order from). Other signs of trusted websites: They have contact details on the page and available tools for customer feedback (email address, phone number, review box, etc.). Don’t click on a link from a spam email that leads you to a website. 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.
  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 will 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. Check the currency – Always check the item’s price to see if it is in the currency you prefer. Popular sites like Amazon and e-Bay usually post prices in US$. Just know that your bank can charge you an additional fee for currency conversion. Double check your total bill on the check-out page before you click “order” as there might be taxes or other fees you may not be aware of.
  7. 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 making. Call the bank immediately if you see any discrepancies.
  8. 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.
  9. Use a good data security software – Security or anti-virus 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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