Is It Safe to Buy Online? How to Avoid a Bad Deal

This year, in addition to Cyber Monday deals, many retailers will be offering Black Friday deals through their websites.

While it sounds like a great idea to avoid the mad rush of shoppers trying to grab the best deals at 4 AM the day after Thanksgiving, is it safe to buy online?

When you’re questioning how safe is online shopping, you might be hoping for an easy answer; unfortunately, there isn’t one.

The safety of online shopping depends largely on the steps that you take personally to ensure the integrity of your personal information and the integrity of the retailers with whom you choose to do business.


Online Buying: More Secure than It Used to Be?

Since the number of people shopping online increases every year, online buying is more secure than it once was. According to comScore statistics provided by Statista, e-commerce in the US totaled $256 billion in sales in 2011, over a 70% increase from e-commerce sales in 2002.

However, that does not necessarily mean that those asking “Is buying online safe?” have nothing to worry about. Online security is as much about personal effort as it is relying on the systems that retailers have in place to keep your personal information secure.

These systems will be severely tested this upcoming season, as Internet Retailer estimates that online sales will increase nearly 17% over the $46.63 billion online shoppers spent during the last holiday shopping season. A few such systems that major retailers have in place include:

  • Google Wallet and PayPal. Keeping customer information off of a retailer’s mainframe and in the state of the art, secure networks of these e-commerce giants adds security and make it extremely difficult for identity thieves and hackers to gain access.
  • Volusion. Although unfamiliar to most shoppers, Volusion is well known in the online payment industry. Its products not only improve the look and feel of online shopping carts but also make them more secure while including advanced features like fraud detection before a purchase is even made.
  • SSL Certificates. SSL Certificates are one of the most basic but most effective security measures for online shopping. These certificates create a secure bridge between a network’s servers and your home internet connection so that information cannot be accessed by an unauthorized party.

How to Buy Online Safely

At the bottom, buying online is similar to banking online – after all, in both situations, your personal credit information is being transmitted over the web. You can learn more about safe online banking including tips and statistics here. For buying online, the following tips will also help you with how to stay safe online while doing internet shopping.

  • Try to stick to trusted retailers. This is one of the relatively safe ways to buy online. When a well-known retailer’s website is hacked, the news makes headlines, but in reality, this occurrence is relatively rare. Your risk of having credit card information stolen is much higher if you take a risk-sharing that information with unknown online sellers.  For example, you can use Raise which has Target coupon codes on their site which allows you to find good deals and still shop with trusted retailers.
  • Make sure your anti-virus is working. Buying online safely is next to impossible if you do not have a working firewall and anti-virus, since your computer can be loaded with malware and your personal information was stolen very easily without these protective programs in place.
  • Use credit instead of debit. Credit cards usually have higher levels of protection should you need to dispute charges. Most debit cards do not protect you unless you dispute within 24 hours of a charge, and you won’t likely be aware of problems with an online purchase until well after that window. Learn more about avoiding credit card fraud through smart use of your credit cards online and in the real world by checking out these credit card tips.

So is it safe to buy online? This is like asking if it’s safe to travel to a major city: It depends where you go and what you do when you get there. Just for perspective, the world’s biggest e-tailer, Amazon, is one of the most secure online retailers and was recently named to the Online Trust Alliance’s 2012 Honor Roll for internet security.

By using online safety tips and doing the majority of your online shopping with trusted retailers like Amazon, your risk of falling victim to a bad online shopping deal is minimized.

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