How to be protected when buying online

Is it safe to shop online? Generally speaking, yes! Online purchases have become much safer in recent years, thanks to all the safer payment gateway options and fraud detection. Online shopping during the Covid pandemic has increased dramatically, which is almost entirely due to the physical safety of not having to venture outdoors.

Some advantages of shopping online include:

  • It is easier to find offers and discounts
  • You can buy quietly without being bothered by sellers
  • Privacy in purchases of items that require discretion
  • It is easier to compare products between several stores or suppliers
  • It’s easier to send gifts to friends and family

The 20 best tips to buy online safely

While online shopping is convenient, there is a downside. Online shopping habits are often tracked or monitored. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep yourself more protected and anonymous. Check out our tips and stay alert when shopping this holiday season.

1. Stick to trusted sellers

Always be sure to thoroughly research a web page before making a purchase. Sticking to sellers you’ve bought from before is a great start. What if you are shopping at an online store that is new to you? Do some research on its reputation by checking consumer reviews on Trustpilot, Yelp, and Google.

2. Confirm the security of the page

Be aware that a seller’s website has SSL encryption. You can do this by checking if the page address starts with https (instead of http) and if there is a lock icon to the left of the URL in the browser’s address bar.

It is important to note that https encryption works whether or not you are connected to the VPN. But, a combined VPN and https encryption will keep you highly protected.

3. Protect your personal information

Be very careful about the information you provide on a web page. When in doubt, only give the minimum information required to make a purchase. Be wary of unusual email requests or calls asking you to verify your account information. For security reasons, sellers will never ask you for sensitive account details, including your date of birth or passwords. 

4. Stay protected on public Wi-Fi networks

Making purchases using a public Wi-Fi network without a VPN increases the chances that your traffic will be intercepted. If you don’t have a VPN, avoid making online purchases in places like hotels, airports, public hotspots, buses, and coffee shops.

5. Create strong passwords

When creating your online accounts, be sure to use strong and unique passwords, as well as two-factor authentication. Make third party access to your account as difficult as possible.

6. Use online payment services

Whenever available, use secure payment gateways like PayPal, Stripe, or Venmo. Linking your credit card, rather than your debit card, to an online payment service also gives you an extra layer of protection when accessing your money.

7. Beware of fraudulent offers

If you find a deal that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a product is noticeably cheaper compared to other websites, it is most likely a counterfeit. 

8. Keep an eye on your statements

By enabling automatic payment notifications in your online banking or payment service, you can receive a notification as soon as a payment is made, whether genuine or not.   

9. Use una VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, will direct your online traffic through a secure tunnel. In addition to offering protection, downloading a VPN for online shopping could also save you money. And it is that prices in online stores and services may vary depending on the location. 

10. See if vendors accept credit cards

Credit cards are a reliable method of buying online, since they are backed by banks and financial institutions and are generally accepted by the vast majority of online stores. It is one of the easiest payment methods to stop in case of fraud.

11. Check online reviews

Although the cases of fake online store reviews have increased, it is still advisable to visit reliable review sites such as Trustpilot. Be alert if you see an excessive number of reviews with extremely similar or exaggerated language. 

12. Type the URL directly in the address bar

If you receive online offer emails, visit the web pages of those particular sellers by typing their URLs directly into the address bar of your browser, instead of clicking the links in the emails. In this way, you can determine whether the advertised offer is genuine and thus protect yourself from false links.

13. Use a specific email address

Creating another email address just for online purchases can reduce the risk of spam. It also has the advantage of keeping all your online shopping activities separate from your main email account. You can also use anonymous email forwarders to hide your primary email address.

14. Be cautious when shopping on your phone

Whenever possible, opt for an official store app instead of making purchases from a mobile browser. Be very careful with links from URL shortening services (such as Bitly or Google URL Shortener) as their destinations are unknown.

15. Always log out after shopping online

Unless your device is exclusively used by you and you alone, be sure to sign out of all your accounts after you’ve finished shopping online. 

16. Install an antivirus or antimalware

Protect yourself against possible security risks in your online shopping activities by installing antivirus on all your devices. Many reputable antivirus packages come with extensions and plugins that you can also install in your browser.

17. Don’t be afraid to complain

If what you’ve ordered doesn’t match the seller’s description, is damaged, or doesn’t even arrive, don’t be afraid to complain…strongly. Complain to the website, seller, reseller, or a state (or federal) oversight agency. After all, you paid for your order!

18. Use a virtual credit card

Virtual or temporary credit or debit cards are a great way to add an extra layer of security to your online transactions. Certain credit card providers may issue a temporary card number forked from your existing card. This can be used for specific or one-time purchases.

19. Research physical addresses and phone numbers

Whenever possible, look to see if a business has a verifiable address or phone number on their website. An easy way to check if an address is real is to look it up on Google Maps. In fairness, it should be noted that the largest online platforms like Amazon also accept third-party resellers and any disputes that may arise will be handled by Amazon. 

20. Read the Terms and Conditions

Always remember to read the terms and conditions of everything you buy online. For example, make sure a seller is legitimate before purchasing a gift card. This can help you ensure that your recipient will be able to access and use the card without unnecessary barriers.

Risks of online purchases

In addition to the possibility of being tracked or monitored, shopping online also carries several risks that can catch unsuspecting shoppers off guard. Identity theft is perhaps one of the most common problems with unsecured pages that allow your personal data to be intercepted and stolen.

Identity Theft

This can involve anything from hackers stealing a customer’s personal and payment information, to phishing emails designed to obtain their personal information. Once your data has been compromised it will be much easier to impersonate you online. Keep an eye on your statements, email, and notifications for any unusual purchases made on your behalf. 

Data theft

If an online store suffers a data breach, the personal and financial information of each customer could be compromised and sold online. This could lead to credit card theft or identity theft.

Fake apps

Be sure to use the official apps developed by the online stores. To determine if an app is authentic, make sure you download it from a link shared on a seller’s official website or check reviews on Google Play or the Apple App Store.

Safe shopping in stores

Avoid ATMs

Withdraw money from your account beforehand if you’re making cash purchases, and make sure you have enough. ATMs in crowded shopping areas are prime targets for scammers and other fraud. That being said, on calm days it is better to use an ATM during the day when there are a few people around.  

Bluetooth beacons

Bluetooth beacons are Internet of Things devices that pair with phones, and can monitor your movements and collect information about your shopping habits, proximity to certain products, and geolocation. This can be avoided by keeping Bluetooth turned off or only paired with devices you trust. Android devices also have a feature that passively scans other devices to find their location. In Android 11, you can find this feature in the settings menu under Location > Improve accuracy.

Ultrasonic tracking 

Audio waves, which most humans don’t hear, can be picked up by phones and used to track you. Be careful which apps you give microphone permissions to, not only to avoid ultrasonic tracking but also to make sure your conversations aren’t recorded or mined for keywords.

Keep in touch

If you have company, try to stay together or at least make sure you know each other’s location. If you are with children, be sure to have them with you at all times and tell them to immediately speak to mall staff, security, or another parent if they get lost. It’s also helpful for your kids to memorize your phone number, just in case.

Protect your personal items

Keep bags, purses and wallets safe. If you can carry it, get an anti-theft backpack, preferably with a zipper that opens from the inside, rather than the outside. Take the minimum necessary items when you go shopping outdoors (we recommend special privacy accessories such as a Faraday bag and RFID-blocking wallet). Do not leave your items unattended.

We hope these tips will be useful in your next online purchases. Remember that using a VPN can help you find the best deals and, above all, protect your personal data online.

Frequently asked questions: security when buying online

What is the safest way to order online?

Payment gateways like PayPal are considered the safest payment methods for ordering online. You only need to attach your credit card information to a single page or service —in this case, the payment gateway— and your data will be protected. Payment gateways have strong cybersecurity measures in place, such as end-to-end encrypted transactions.

Why is it important to shop safely online?

When shopping online, it’s important to stay protected to avoid falling victim to scams, identity theft, and losing money.