A woman sat on her bed online shopping safely.
Work & Money

How To Stay Cyber Safe When You’re Shopping Online This Summer

Who doesn’t love summer? The horizon is glazed in a golden glow, the daylight seeping into your skin from your outdoor activity gifts you guilt-free feel-good chemicals, and the world just seems more hopeful. Throw in the ability of UV light to hamper the propagation of viral loads, and you have a recipe for a perfect season.

As the excitement builds and you start to think about all the time you intend to spend drinking rosé in the park with your gal pals or soaking up the rays in a rustic recliner, your thoughts inevitably stray to certain key questions. What should you wear to your rosé in the park date? What is even fashionable anymore?! Do you even have a recliner? Where can you buy one? How quickly can you get the logistics out of the way so you can make a start on vegetating and sipping frozen margaritas on the lawn?

In these odd times, online shopping is your likely port of call. Just a few clicks and a short-ish wait stand between you and the summer dress or garden furniture of your dreams — but hold your horses, because fervour is to fraud as inebriation is to bad judgement (it doesn’t guarantee it, but it makes it far more likely). Cyber crime is a major issue these days, and you need to make an effort to protect yourself through safeguarding your finances.

Thankfully, it isn’t that hard to shop safely online, even in the heat of the summer. To help you out, let’s go through some straightforward cyber security tips:

Check reviews for unfamiliar stores

The sheer convenience of Amazon is always tempting, but it isn’t the best store for every type of product — plus you might not want to support a company that treats its employees in such… questionable ways. Due to this, it’s good to check out some new stores, especially when high-street retail is in such a difficult situation. After all, new businesses and indy stores deserve some attention.

Complicating matters, though, is the fact that not all those new merchants are entirely scrupulous. Some may even be lacking any scruples whatsoever. They may be entirely apathetic about keeping your details safe, or they may actually be willing to engage in fraud to get your money and never ship your order (or ship something other than what you expected to receive).

This means it’s a good idea to check reviews before buying from an unfamiliar store. And I don’t just mean on-site reviews, because they may not be trustworthy — anyone can make up some glowing endorsements and slap a 5-star aggregate review rating on their site. 

Instead, search elsewhere for comments on the site. See what people say about the brand or the products you’re planning to buy. Form an idea of where the company came from and what it intends to achieve. If it all checks out, then you can proceed — but if anything seems sketchy, you should go elsewhere.

Watch out for phishing attempts

The more you buy online, the more susceptible you become to phishing attempts

You know those emails and text messages you get claiming that you need to pay import fees for particular items you’ve purchased or that you’ve won customer giveaways? They seem ridiculous when they mention brands you’ve never bought from and accounts you don’t have, but not all phishing attempts are so transparent. They can actually be quite convincing.

Take account security, for instance. You could receive an email from a store you’ve bought from recently, saying that your account has been compromised and you need to change your password immediately. Messages like that can be legitimate, so you can end up going along with that email — only to discover too late that it was a trick to get your existing details.

When in doubt, head to the store website and compare all the details. If you’re still not sure, reach out to customer support and ask about the legitimacy of the email. Just be careful.

Stay within typical payment channels

However you feel about PayPal, it’s hard to deny that it’s extremely reliable, which is why it’s generally reassuring when you find that you can pay via PayPal on a given site. When a company asks you to enter your card details manually, you need a little more reassurance that the company can be trusted before it’s safe to continue.

But those aren’t the only options. Third-party marketplaces (such as Etsy) allow people to engage in hybrid retail, offering products online but personally dropping them off (or overseeing their collection), and this complicates matters when sellers inevitably bring up the possibility of paying in person. Simply accepting cash on collection is easier than dealing with online payment systems, but it also poses a substantial risk that you need to acknowledge.

If you’re speaking to a seller about some on-trend sandals you’ve had your eye on, and they ask you to pay via a channel you don’t recognise, be extremely cautious. If in any doubt, ask to go through PayPal or another mainstream system — and if they’re unwilling to do that, forget it and look for an alternative.

Staying safe while online shopping this summer shouldn’t be too hard if you’re fairly careful. Read reviews, look out for phishing scams, and use mainstream payment systems. These three things alone should keep you pretty safe. Happy shopping!

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