* Written by Alison Grace Johansen with NortonLifeLock.
Holiday shopping and Boxing Day are great times to take advantage of the convenience of shopping online, but don't let the excitement cloud your judgement.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre claims that in 2021, frauds associated with buying or selling goods or services online accounted for more than $21.1 million in reported losses. Many buyers fell for fraudulent "deals" seen on social media or shopping websites, receiving nothing or cheap random items that could only be returned by paying a high international shipping charge.
These scammers can really suck the joy out of shopping. To help you shop safer this year, we've compiled some helpful tips for you to keep in mind before the holidays. Check it out!
1. Shop with reputable retailers
It's best to shop directly with online retailers you know and trust. Bookmark your favourite shopping sites, and avoid typing the name of the retailer into your browser bar. Any typo could lead you instead to a fraudulent site made up to look like the real one.
2. Vet new-to-you businesses
Did you spot an amazing product from a new seller? Do your homework on any business you've never purchased from in the past. Look for online reviews and search the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Check the "Contact Us" page on the website for a reputable address and phone number. Call them if they have a phone number.
3. Beware of amazing deals
Did you spot an ad on Facebook or Instagram offering rock-bottom prices or even free items? Remember, if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Compare prices before you buy. Be aware that many fraudulent sites are even advertised on social media.
4. Don't browse on public Wi-Fi
Avoid using public Wi-Fi whenever possible. Shopping online often requires giving out private info that a thief or hacker would love to grab, such as your name, address and credit card number.
5. Use a VPN
If you ever do use public Wi-Fi, protect yourself with a VPN (virtual private network). A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the server. Using a VPN is the only way to shop online safely from public Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, and other public spaces.
6. Pick strong passwords
A strong password is like a secure lock that keeps cyberthieves out of the accounts where you store your private info. Here are some quick guidelines on how to choose a good password:
Use a complex set of lower and uppercase numbers, letters, and symbols. Or consider a long passphrase that you can remember and others are unlikely to guess.
Avoid dictionary words and personal info a thief could easily find or guess like your kid's birthdate, your pet's name, or your favourite sports team.
Never reuse passwords across sites. If you do, a data breach at one company could give criminals to your other accounts.
7. Check site security before you buy
Look for a lock icon in the browser bar of a site to verify that they use SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption. The URL should also start with "https" rather than just "http". These secure websites are configured to mask the data you share, such as passwords or financial info. Shopping only on secure sites reduces the risk that your private info will be compromised while you shop.
8. Don't fall for email scams
You might get emails or texts offering amazing bargains or claiming there's been a problem with a package delivery. Delete suspicious messages from unfamiliar senders. And don't open attachments or click links in messages because they could infect your computer or phone with viruses and other malware.
9. Guard your personal information
Here's a general rule: No shopping website should ever ask for your Social Insurance Number. If a site does request this type of very personal info, consider it a red flag. Provide reputable sellers the minimum personal info necessary in order to complete a purchase.
10. Pay with credit, not debit
Always use a credit card to shop as securely as possible. First, a credit card doesn't give a seller direct access to the money in your bank account. Second, most credit cards offer $0 liability for fraud. That means you're not out any money if a crook uses your account info to make a purchase. Your credit card company will ask questions, investigate the fraudulent activity, and send you a new card.
11. Add extra security with a virtual credit card
A virtual credit card can offer even more online shopping security. Some credit card issuers will give you a temporary card number that's linked to your credit card account. You can use the temporary number to shop online without showing the seller your own personal credit card details.
12. Keep an eye out for fraud
Check your bank and credit card statements for fraudulent charges at least once a week. Or set up account alerts to notify you of any new activity on your card. When you receive a text or email notification, you can check your account to make sure you recognize the charge.
13. Mind the details
After you make a purchase, keep the details in a safe place. Hang onto the receipt, your order confirmation number, and the tracking number the seller provides. If you have a problem with the order, this info will help you get the issue resolved quickly.
14. Track your stuff
After you make an online purchase, keep tabs on it to make sure it's headed your way. If the merchant refuses to provide shipping info or respond to your requests for the status of your order, contact your credit card issuer for help. They may remove the charge from your bill and look into the matter.
15. Report scammers
If you've been the victim of a scam, please contact your local police as soon as possible and report a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Following these online shopping safety tips may help you foil scammers and avoid becoming a target in the first place. Stay safe!