Top 5 tips for safely shopping online

Online shopping offers plenty of convenience, but it might come at an unexpected price: Your sensitive information. Tom Merritt offers five tips for staying safe while shopping online.

Shopping online… like so many other things in our lives--driving, for instance--it sounds dangerous when you think about it, and yet we go ahead and do it all the time. But, that's no reason not to be smart about it. Here are five tips to help keep you safe when shopping online.

  1. Slow down. Do you know the site? Is the deal too good to be true? Don't click on that enticing email link, deal, or coupon. Take a breath and type in the actual store URL by hand.
  2. Is the link secure? Look for the lock symbol that means it's using an encrypted connection. Even then, double-check the site you're on is the actual site you want to be on. More than a few sites use fake domains that look like the legit site with perhaps a misspelling or added character. Often the site will try to look as close to the original as possible.
  3. Be careful with your info. Don't enter your info when using public Wi-Fi. If you have to shop while at a hotel or airport, use VPN.
  4. Hold back the info you give sites. Maybe use a different email address for shopping at sites you care less about. Don't enter info unless it's absolutely necessary. And don't store info with sites or at least don't store payment info. Consider using a separate card or one-time use number for online payments. Some people only use gift cards.  
  5. Keep your software and OS up to date. The store you're shopping at may not be the security threat--it may be the app or some other malware that got into your system. As my friend Bart always says, "stay patched, so you stay secure."

These are just a few tips to help keep you a little safer so get the thing you were shopping for, not a nasty security surprise.

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Image: iStockphoto/Zinkevych