How can you be sure you are doing truly SECURE online shopping? Can you avoid scams altogether?
Yes, part of it is in learning to watch for the signs of a secure site before you purchase. Another part lies in developing good common sense, and a strong moral compass, so that you can pick up better on people and sites with bad motives, and bad business practices. Because the ones that might pull a scam on you can look very professional and the words and graphics can be very attractive.
Especially if you have a Windows operating system on your computer, you should make sure you have a good firewall (software) set up and that your anti-virus software is up-to-date. If you connect to the internet wirelessly, make sure your connection is encrypted, or anyone in your neighbourhood can piggy-back on your connection, and with the right software might follow you around and record your keystrokes. (Mac and Linux operating systems are much more secure in this regard, but the wireless connection is still something to watch).
As soon as you receive your credit, or debit card, you should verify or authenticate it. In fact, it is also smart to write down the numbers somewhere safe, in case they are ever lost or stolen, along with the number to call to report them missing. It is a hassle to cancel a card, but if you ever discover someone else is making purchases on it, you want to report it as fast as possible.
When you come to the shopping cart at an online store, before you put any information in the shopping form check to see whether the URL for that page starts with https:// instead of just http://. (Look for it in that address blank near the top of your browser; it tells you which webpage you are on).
A website has to jump through some legal hoops to get a secure online shopping cart on their site before they can get that https in place. It tells you that their system will hide your credit/debit card number and will not send it in a plain text email. Rather your information will be encrypted.
The second clue to secure online shopping - is that little icon of a locked padlock on the status bar/line just under the screen area where you see the website you are visiting. If that padlock icon is open - that is, the upper metal loop part is turned away from the lower mechanism, then you are at that moment on an unsecure page of that site.
If the little padlock looks closed, it is locked. Look for that. That means the page has secure online shopping software in place.
It may reassure you to know that merchants who want to sell online have a far greater danger of being scammed by customers than you have a danger of being scammed by them. Those who have a brand name that you recognize, and who have put all kinds of contact information about themselves as a business or the owner(s) are usually honest and above board. Sadly, they are often scammed by so-called customers.
There are also some crazy goofs who like to brag they hacked a certain well-known site. If you are a decent, law-abiding citizen, who wants to buy something, the shopping site owners are likely to fall over themselves trying to serve you. They do have to guard against that other sort however.
There are a few other practical habits you can form to better assess whether a shopping site is secure enough!
I look for the following clues for a safe online store;
[*] That it look professionally created,
[*] It is easy to find the site owner's name and location,
[*] A physical address, and contact information, plus a contact form,
[*] Something about the site owner(s) and a photo or two, I want to know them!
If I don't see all that there, I get nervous, and refuse to do business on that site. They may be just naive, but that's how fly-by-night scam-artists often set up too. They expect us to be ignorant and/or gullible.
When I have prowled over the site, and explored it like I would a new store, and when I'm thinking I'd like to buy something there, I go even further to make sure I'm about to do secure online shopping;
I open another browser tab and do a search for what others say and have experienced with this site or company.
I weigh the negative reviews for 'sour grapes' against real problems; (people complain sooner than praise someone).
Once I've decided that I will go ahead, I click on the item to put it in the shopping cart, but then I watch to make sure that closed padlock icon shows up at the bottom of the screen, and also that the URL address has changed to include an 's' as in https:// -- If those are not there, I back off and close the window or tab.
If I continue and fill out the purchase form, and my card number, I take it as good sign if they ask for the 3-digit code on the back of the card. Most shopping sites do now.
When completed, I print out the invoice they provide, even though I know they will email one to me, (emails do get lost). Then I close that tab or window just in case some scammer is hovering nearby hoping to invisibly hit the back button and add to my order, or make up a new one, using my card. It should not happen on a secure site, but hey, I'm super-cautious!
Scammers can create a very professional-looking site as well. It pays to be somewhat suspicious. Don't be ashamed to be Super-Cautious. Let it motivate you to become smarter and well-informed.
(However, avoid the cliff of paranoia - you'll fall off the edge - probably into the lap of a scammer taking advantage of your panic).
I've learned to be alert, watch for clues, and trust my intuition, so I'm not so tense about shopping any more. Here are a few more of my personal habits for secure online shopping;
[*] I watch/read for recommendations from people I already know and trust. When I have to purchase from strangers I do extra research, and even pray about it, and sleep on it a night or two before I finally make a purchase. Even then I buy only when all signals appear green for secure online shopping. Okay, that may sound a bit paranoid to those who dash ahead where angels would tip-toe, but if you are shy and unsure of what could happen, then by all means, go slow and c a r e f u l l y as you learn secure online shopping habits.
[*] I always look for the "About us" or "About Me" page. I want to get to know the person(s) behind it, and see them, no matter how homely they look. If they have to hide their face, I ask myself, what else are they hiding? Are they real business people or are they trying to fleece people?
[*] Often I have signed up for a site's free ezine or emails for a while so I can read between the lines and discern what kind of character they have. If I'm not impressed, I can unsubscribe in a jiffy. Sometimes I have read their ezine for months to make sure I could trust the owner.
Just think: if you were stepping into this store in a mall down your street, you would pick up cues from appearances, and body language. Getting to know character online is every bit as important for secure online shopping.
[*] Somtimes I also search for their name in Google to see what others say about them. If anyone complains of bad online shopping experiences with that person or business, I pay close attention. It might be sour grapes, but then, it might also be a serious alert flag.
Let's exercise discernment!
Join a shopping portal and start all your shopping from there. They have already screened the stores they recommend and quickly detach one that gets a bad reputation. You can enjoy some terrific discounts and rebates that way too. (The one I appreciate most now is MainStreetSHARES.com>! But I also have joined www.GreatCanadianRebates.ca, and Ebates.)
If you come to trust my site, the one you are on right now, - you can hang out here - that is, come back frequently to see what secure online shopping sites are recommended. I am always adding more helpful guides. I'd be honoured if you bookmark this site, and tell others.
Learn to research a store brand or person offering things for sale and find out what others have experienced. It's not just in your small home town that everyone knows everyone else's business any more. That happens online too, to a degree, and if you know what forums to visit, what scam report sites to check, you can soon find out more than you wanted to know.
If you have browsed on eBay any length of time you will notice that the positive feedback score is VERY important to the sellers. They know that new folks are not likely to bid on their items if other customers have had a bad experience with them! - I would just add that we have to learn to recognize when someone is being wrongly tarred and feathered too. Lies as well as truth spread quickly on the Internet. Still, it is possible to enjoy fun, safe, secure online shopping.