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How to Shop Safely Online This Holiday Season (and Keep All Personal Data Private In the Process)

It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is once again upon us and the mad rush to do last minute shopping is yet again knocking at the door. Only this year we have more to consider when shopping online; not only must we be ever vigilant of online scammers, we must also now keep in mind that we may face rising costs due to stock shortages. 

Every year seems to bring with it new problems along with exciting developments in the world around us. As we reach the end of this year, we are yet again seeking the best stores to shop at without actually going to a brick and mortar store. As of last year we have been doing many things online that we used to do in person, and shopping is no different. 

Convenience has become the new requirement for many activities, whether it is business, schooling or socializing. This is especially true since we don’t really want to be exposed to long queues in this era of Covid 19. 

Let’s face it, online shopping has never been easier — or more dangerous.

Not only have we progressed from brick and mortar to online stores, we’ve also progressed from dumpster diving to steal information to e-skimming. The dark web seems to get darker by the year; however, as long as you use wisdom and shop with your eyes wide open, you should be just fine. Most cyber criminals pick on the unsuspecting, the unwary and the unprepared. 

By following a few simple and basic tips, you will ensure that your online shopping experience is one that is pleasant and productive instead of painful and distressing.

Be First In the Queue

Due to the current supply chain issues being faced the world over, it would probably be a really good idea to get your shopping (and shipping) done early.

With everything so conveniently at your fingertips, not to mention such a great variety to choose from, it is in your best interest to take an hour or two out of your day to visit your favorite online stores and get all your shopping done early. This way you will jump the queue of crazy, last minute shoppers and you can ensure that all your gifts and holiday cheer arrive on time. 

Not only will this avoid delays, but it will also ensure that the things you wish to purchase are available and are able to be shipped out in a timely fashion. This will greatly aid you in averting disaster – namely gifts not arriving in time or that perfect gift not being available due to a lack of supply. So make sure that you are first in the queue this holiday season and let your fingers do all the walking. 

Keep Information to a Minimum

An absolute must when shopping online is to keep the information you share online to an absolute minimum. When visiting online stores, making the gaffe of over-sharing your private and personal information is a mistake you will live to regret. 

You may come across sites that will ask you for information such as date of birth, social security number, etc. These are not things which any online store needs to know and as such these queries should be treated with the caution and disdain they deserve. 

Another way you might inadvertently over-share information is when you shop online via free Wi-Fi in a public place. Whilst you may think you are using your time wisely and making every minute count, you might find that some dark web malefactor has been hacking into your computer via the open Wi-Fi signal and silently but efficiently making every cent count by robbing you blind before you have time to blink. 

Always, always, shop online only when you are using a private network and will not run the risk of having somebody peering over your shoulder as you enter your private banking details or card details. You might think that nobody is watching, but unfortunately there generally is someone watching, so ensure the safety of your private information by keeping it under wraps at all times. 

Do Due Diligence When Shopping

As we have stated before, it is really best to shop on sites that are known and trusted and that have their websites starting in https as covered in one of our previous articles. Most of the big retailers have online stores and when shopping with these brands you can be assured that your safety is their top priority. 

There will be times when you may stray from your trusty known stores and cross the online threshold of a store you have never shopped at before. If you are going to do this, keep in mind that it is imperative to do due diligence and check up on the store and its authenticity before making any purchases or entering any of your private information on their site.

To do this, simply check with the Better Business Bureau or with Trustpilot.

With so many con artists out there, one small, seemingly innocuous slip on your part could mean an empty bank account or stolen identity, which could take months to sort out and rectify. One of the popular online scams which crooks are using these days is called e-skimming. This is when cyber criminals add skimming code onto an ecommerce site’s payment page. 

What happens next is that when the unsuspecting shopper enters their credit card and other payment details when checking out, that information is sent straight through to the dark web scammer and the rest, as they say, is history …

Including all your hard earned money.

By doing due diligence and checking out the site’s credentials, you can cut down your risk substantially. It’s also wise to keep an ear primed for any complaints from previous shoppers to the site. Where there is smoke, there is more often than not fire. 

With that being said, if there are only positive, raving reviews and not one single complaint or critical comment, it’s best to follow your gut instinct. Not one single person or company is perfect and because each person is different and has different needs, there is no way a company will be able to meet each and every person’s needs perfectly, so there ought to be at least one or two critical comments or bad reviews. 

Check and make sure that the number and address listed on the site really belong to a legitimate business. Many people have been scammed out of life savings by bogus companies/online stores that only have their site open for the express purpose of scamming unsuspecting shoppers. 

Also make sure that what you are buying is what has been advertised. Read the description of the product you want to buy very carefully and make sure that the quantity and volume you fill in on the order form match the quantity and volume that is being advertised. 

Use a Virtual Card Instead

We’ve mentioned the wisdom of using a credit card instead of a debit card when shopping online, but something else you may want to consider if you are a regular shopper online is what is called a virtual credit card

Simply ask your bank to help you set up a virtual credit card and use that instead of your debit card or normal credit card. What the virtual card does is generate a new card number for each transaction you do online so that it is never the same card number twice. This makes it a lot harder for dark web malefactors to get hold of your card information. 

With each new transaction you will receive a new card number, a brand new CVV and also a new expiration date. And best of all, you won’t need to transfer any money onto this virtual card because it is linked to the chip in your ‘real’ credit card. Don’t worry, though, the cyber crook can’t trace your virtual card to your real card. 

So if you’re contemplating shopping on a site you’ve not bought from before, after doing your due diligence and extra recon, it’s definitely a good idea to use the virtual card instead. 

‘Tis The Season to Be Merry

By keeping these few points in mind when shopping online and by remembering to watch out for the too good to be true sales, the phishing emails or pop-up notifications, looking for the lock symbol and trusted SSL certificate, and using strong passwords, you can sit back and relax whilst doing your online shopping instead of facing stress and worry each time you log on to make a purchase. 

You can also get your shopping done early and skip the mad rush for desirable or popular items. Not to mention that you can then wait for them to arrive safely on your doorstep with the least possible inconvenience (or even none at all) to yourself. 

One last thing to keep in mind though is that you need to regularly check your credit card statements and bank statements just in case, to make sure that there are no irregularities. By doing this you will ensure a better shopping experience and can return with confidence next time to do it all again. 

As always, if you’re needing any kind of additional help to better understand how you can shop safely online this holiday season, consider reaching out to HelpCloud technicians for remote support.

Erik Fullmer

Director of Marketing

Erik was raised in many places in a military family but has long since called Utah home. He spends free time in his garden, in the mountains with his dog, and skis…a lot. He is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified winter mountain guide.

Erik graduated from Utah Valley University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science and a minor in Spanish. Additionally, being raised by a German mother, he spent a part of his childhood and also the beginning of his professional career in Germany where he worked as a Digital Strategist for adesta, a locally owned business in Darmstadt. Speaking three languages has opened up the world to him and influences the breadth of topics covered in his articles. He has always held an affinity for the world wide web and its workings, development, history and future.

Being a key player in the development of, and Director of Marketing for HelpCloud, he takes the content displayed and utilized on HelpCloud extremely seriously.

Photo of Erik Fullmer