Seven Ways to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

Americans beat their own record in just a few days last year.

On Black Friday 2020, Americans spent around $9 billion online, a new record for a single day’s U.S. e-commerce sales. Then, just a few days later, on Cyber Monday, we outspent ourselves… to a new historical high of $10.8 billion.

And it’s no wonder…

Several years ago, for the first time ever, I did all my Black Friday shopping on the Internet… mostly on Amazon (the world’s largest retailer). The deals at your local brick-and-mortar store are simply not good enough to justify losing sleep and spending hours waiting in line.

However, traditional department stores still rely on Black Friday deals, which is why you’ll see Kohl’s, Macy’s, and JC Penney opening in the early hours of Friday morning.

But lots of retailers have already started offering special deals… Walmart, Best Buy, and Target all started their Black Friday deals earlier this month, and if you buy something before they sweeten the deal further, you can request a refund for the difference. Amazon also started early, with a huge Black Friday sale in the first weekend of November.

And several websites – like TheBlackFriday.com and BlackFriday.com – track the best deals for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving).

But all that online shopping comes at a risk… We’ve written before about some of the biggest data hacks over the years, like Target’s 2013 data breach that saw personal data stolen for 40 million customers.

So remember, when you shop online this weekend or any other time, take the time to stay safe. Here are the seven steps to limit your online-shopping risk…

How to Protect Yourself When Shopping Online

1) Only use trusted sites. Whenever you enter your credit-card number, always look for the letter “s” at the end of the URL’s “http.” It should say “https://” before the rest of the site’s address. In most browsers, an icon of a closed padlock will appear as well, either next to the URL or at the bottom of the screen.

The lock means it’s an encrypted website. Without encryption, hackers can more easily break in and access your information.

2) Check the spelling. Make sure you’re at the right URL. Many scam-based websites will look almost like the real thing. Sites with “.co” after them are often fake sites and may also have hackers lurking.

And if you aren’t familiar with a retailer’s website, check for a designation from the Better Business Bureau and be sure to read some reviews from past customers before filling in your personal information.

3) Shield yourself. Lots of Internet shopping means the potential for pop-ups, malware, viruses, and other nasty bugs. Invest in a good malware-removal program and a good antivirus program. I use Norton programs for both. You can check out a free trial right here.

And don’t forget to protect your phone, too. Hackers now have malicious programs that steal information on your smartphone. Programs like Malwarebytes (for Android phones) and Avast SecureLine (for Apple) protect against attacks.

4) Don’t use public “free” Wi-Fi. If you connect your computer or smartphone wirelessly, only use secure, password-protected Wi-Fi. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, avoid signing into your credit-card or bank accounts, or entering your credit-card information. These unsecured networks are far easier for hackers to crack.

Always conduct purchases on secured networks. For an easy guide on how to secure your home network system, read Wired’s tutorial.

5) Guard your password. Some websites now offer something called “two-factor authentication.” Two-factor authentication requires your password plus another piece of information – like a code sent to your e-mail or mobile device associated with your account – to log in to a website. I love using this feature.

Many companies – including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – give you the option of using two-factor authentication, as do many banks, brokerages, and credit-card companies.

PC Magazine has a guide on how to set up two-factor authentication on some websites. You can read it here.

6) Use resell sites cautiously. Buying from third parties – like Amazon’s marketplace (meaning third-party sellers who list their wares on Amazon’s website), Craigslist, or eBay – can snag you great deals. But anything with an “activation code” requires extra care when purchasing. I’d avoid them.

Gift cards can be a particular gamble. You don’t know if the full value is really still on there.

7) Always check for a receipt. Print out the confirmation page on your computer or save the confirmation e-mail.

And make sure to check your credit-card statement to ensure the charges are correct. Check that day and again a week later to make sure extra charges didn’t slip in after your initial purchase.

Please use these seven tips this week, on Black Friday, and on Cyber Monday to do what I do: stay home. Do your shopping from the couch and without the stress of fighting your way through hordes of people in a store. And use the extra time to spend with your family.

What We’re Reading

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 22, 2021