How Safe is Online Shopping? Tips to Get Ready for Cyber Monday and Beyond

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buy-computer

Personally, I hate shopping. I do though, like the act of giving gifts. There is something always great about spreading joy to friends and family during the holiday seasons. My wife is a bargain hunter and loves the “sport” of the deal hunt. She went missing on Black Friday only to reappear a few hours later with lots of great deals. But she was honest with me, she felt that the deals were not that great for our family. We don’t need toys…the kids are just too old (I wouldn’t mind a video game or two though). I, on the other hand, am a surgical shopper. I shop in my mind well before and then strategically swoop into the brick and mortar store to get the presents and then I’m gone…and usually it is during the week of Christmas.

buy-computer

For those of us who can’t stand the lines at physical stores, you now have an alternative called Cyber Monday. It’s the first day back at work when people are recovering from the holidays. Many have not bought gifts or missed a deal during Black Friday and so they turn to their computer to see if they can score an even better deal on something. The online markdowns are frequently pretty good, AND you don’t have to deal with rude and obnoxious shoppers. And the deals start early! In fact yesterday(the Saturday before Cyber Monday), I missed an amazing deal on the full James Bond Blu-Ray set which was going for just $99…the price just a few hours after this cyber-doorbuster deal is now $349. Doh!

Cyber Monday is great in my mind. But there is always something nice about being able to go back to a physical store where you bought something from in order to return or exchange it. And there are plenty of scams that exist online, site that offer incredible deals but are just fronts to someone stealing your credit and personal information. But just a note, this happens in the physical world as well. A few years ago during the holiday season, I became a victim of identity theft. It turns out that some holiday help at one of these big box stores took a handful of credit card receipts and information and began opening other credit accounts and charging up a storm…all against my credit. But the joke was on them. They were caught and I was not responsible for the charges. Since then, and I recommend that everyone do this, I have signed up for a credit monitoring service that notifies me if any odd behavior is happening with my cards or credit. And all of the major credit companies now have automated monitoring to ensure that if anything odd happens on your account, that you are immediately contacted and notified.

Anyway, so there are dangers in the physical world. But there are probably more in the online world. So you need to be careful and shop online intelligently.

As part of the year long program with Trend Micro called The Digital Joneses that I’m doing with other prominent Basic CMYK bloggers around the country, we are presented with monthly “challenges” around security, privacy and online safety. This month’s challenge is around shopping safely during Cyber Monday. Armed with some provided gift cards (to be extra safe), we were supposed to head out to the wild online world and do some shopping at questionable sites. And while I feel pretty confident in my online skills and coupled with the fact that I was using essentially a pre-paid debit card (that was completely isolated from my personal and credit information), because of my previous identity theft situation, I decided to only investigate some questionable sites but not actually do any shopping there.

Support Small Business

It is often quite difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate site and a scam site. And these online scammers are getting much better at tricking people. But there is often a tricky decision point when buying from a site that simply doesn’t look that great or “secure.” Frequently the “mom and pop” and local businesses don’t spend much money on their eCommerce enablement or the design of their site. These sites can look a bit sketchy. However, I would like to encourage people to do some shopping at local stores and small businesses, instead of the huge sites like Amazon or Best Buy or Walmart. It’s important to support these smaller businesses. On Facebook I recently saw this badge that made me want to truly make note of this support in this article.

support-small-biz

Local Stores and their eCommerce Sites

I asked my wife for some local brick and mortar, boutique shops to show as examples (because I simply am not a shopper). I tried a variety of local stores but none seemed to have shopping carts. One that I did find was a shoe store called Foot Candy (that has 3 locations around our area). From a quick scan, the site looks quite nice (and I was looking for a shopping cart to test).

foodcandy-site

I chose some shoes to test this out (sorry, not quite my style) and went to the check out. The most important thing to look for before you enter in your credit card is to see if the site has encryption. You can look for HTTPS and a padlock symbol in the URL bar. The Foot Candy eCommerce looks pretty good. Just click on the padlock symbol to get more details:

footcandy-cert

Foot Candy seems to have the appropriate security and since it is a local store as well, I would feel confident shopping there. (I wonder if my wife wants anything from there…)

I checked out some other local retailers and for the most part, those stores don’t have eCommerce-enabled websites so you probably have to hop in the car and do your purchases (gasp) physically there.

Finding a Scamming eCommerce Site

I must admit, I spent about 30 minutes trying to come up with some domain names that might lead me to a questionable site. And the good news is, I couldn’t find any. I tried all sorts of combinations like xbox4cheap.net, ps3superdeal.com, cheapgadets4less.biz, etc. and many of the domains simply didn’t work (or had been taken down).

One that I did come across was via a search for “Rolex Watch 4 Less” which on the 17th page result, I came across this warning (on counterfeiting merchandise):

watch-site

I also tried using Google Shopper to find outrageously inexpensive deals but for the most part, all of the sites that I came across were legitimate. I believe this to be a good sign of the times.

Tips to Make Online Shopping Safer

But if you are doing some online shopping, it’s important to be armed with some safety information. Here are some tips to make your online shopping experience a bit safer.

  • Use a modern and updated browser  – they frequently have safe-guards built in.
  • Always go to the site yourself – don’t click through an email URL.
  • Check for HTTPS and valid certificates within the eCommerce portion of the site.
  • Use your gut – if something feels a bit questionable, go with your gut and just shop somewhere else.
  • Too good to be true? – Watch out for deals that are simply too good to be true.
  • Be careful of certain sites – be careful when shopping on eBay, Craigslist or equivalent sites. They can be packed with scammers.
  • Watch out for hidden costs – some sites may have really low prices but then nail you with crazy shipping and handling fees.
  • Get security software – the more protection you have, the harder it is to become a victim.
  • Look for fakes – if someone is selling a Rolex for an incredibly cheap price, it’s either stolen or counterfeit.
  • Use a pre-paid debit card – if you do shop on questionable sites, use a pre-paid debit card to limit your losses.

sale-computer

In addition to my tips listed above, Trend Micro has some others that you should keep in mind:

  • Use a normal payment method – don’t do wire transfers or money orders
  • Use a credit card – you get better protection against fraud and have a limited liability.
  • Use temporary email – sign up for a temporary email and then forward those emails to your own account.
  • Don’t pay with cash – it’s probably hard to do that with online merchants anyway.
  • Don’t use debit – while they are somewhat protected, it’s better not to use them.
  • Review the privacy policy – see what information is used and how it is used.

With these tips and just some common sense, I believe that most online shoppers should be safe during Cyber Monday. Remember though, if you have any doubt in your mind, it might not be worth the extra savings. Trust me, the time and expense that you would need to undergo if you have your identity stolen or your financial records hacked would far outweigh any small savings you might get by purchasing at a non-reputable site.

Disclosure Text: For the Digital Joneses Study, Trend Micro has provided each of the bloggers involved, including me, technology, monetary compensation, and/or software items for use in the various challenges and/or for review. I have a material connection because I received these items for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return these items or gifts after my review period or the study duration. All opinions within this article are my own and not subject to editing or approval by Trend Micro, its agencies, or its contractors. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.

HTD says: Be sure to help stimulate our economy, but also be sure to do it safely!

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Global Product Review Disclosure

Disclosure: This is a global disclosure for product review articles on HighTechDad. It does not apply to Automobile reviews and there are other exceptions. Therefore, it may or may not be applicable to this particular article. I may have a material connection because I may have received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this or other content. I was/am not expected to return the item after my review period. All opinions within this and other articles are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

About HighTechDad

Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”) is an avid technologist, writer, journalist, content marketer, blogger, tech influencer, social media pundit, loving husband and father of 3 beautiful girls living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site covers technology, consumer electronics, Parent Tech, SmartHomes, cloud computing, gadgets, software, hardware, parenting “hacks,” and other tips & tricks.

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