8 Safe Online Shopping Tips for Avoiding Cyber Scams

Jalesa Campbell
Updated Dec 2, 2020
1 min read

The 2020 holiday season is already setting records with Black Friday sales topping out at $9 billion, according to ABC News. This year’s sales saw an increase of 21.6%, and Cyber Monday sales are forecast to be even bigger, with Adobe predicting between $10.8 and $12.7 billion spent this year.

Familiar scenes of packed parking lots and malls weren’t as apparent this Black Friday as many Americans turned to online shopping. According to CNBC, in-store shopping fell about 52% for Black Friday this year, signaling a turn of events for the American shopper. But increased online shopping and home deliveries also bring in the potential for online scams and cybercriminals to take advantage. We’ve put together a list of eight safe online shopping tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a cyber scam.


1. Beware of false coupons by email

Scammers are taking advantage of the fact that retailers are sharing their promotions and sales by email. Some will copy a retailer’s promotion and send it to you in an email in an attempt to steal your personal information. One way you can avoid this scam is to hover over any promotional or sales link before clicking on it. You should also check the retailer’s website to see if they are indeed running that promotion. If you’re unable to verify the promotion or it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Try to shop with trusted retailers

Aim to shop with an established retailer rather than websites or sellers you’ve never shopped with before. That’s not to say that lesser-known retailers are less safe, but if there’s a product you’d really like to purchase and can’t find with a major retailer, check to see if you can look up an address or physical listing for the business — including information about the owner or if other shoppers have made purchases with the business. If you’re unable to find a “firm footing,” it’s probably better to consider an alternative.

3. Make sure you’re shopping a secure website

Look for the lock or the “s” in the URL or address bar when you’re navigating a website. If you do not see “HTTPS”, then consider another option. The “s” at the end stands for “Secure” and helps to ensure your personal information is being protected when entered and shared for processing. Many major retailers and e-commerce websites have added this additional layer of protection for customers, but as always, be diligent and don’t give out more information than you need to.

4. Use credit instead of debit

Avoid using a debit card for your holiday shopping, and go with a credit card instead. Some of the major credit card companies have zero liability policies in the event of fraud so that you’re not responsible. The Fair Credit Billing Act also offers protection for unauthorized charges. While you will be liable for charges up to $50, if you have a charge that’s greater, you can open a dispute but will need to do so within 60 days of the charge. Another option to consider is a virtual credit card that will allow you to have a new card number generated for each purchase, offering additional protection.

5. Don’t reuse passwords for purchases

While it’s convenient and easier to reuse a password for purchases if you have to create an account for checking out, it’s not a good practice. Come up with a unique and complex password if you have to provide your personal information and create an account. Remember that this will make it harder for scammers and identity thieves to access your other accounts since you’ll be using a different password.

6. Keep an eye on your bank account

Check your bank account frequently as you shop online this holiday season. If a scammer obtains your personal information, such as a bank card number, they may perform small test charges to see if the charge will go through. If so, they may eventually make larger purchases, sabotaging your funds. Each week, set aside a little time to go through your finances to ensure that nothing’s going under the radar.

7. Avoid public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is convenient but risky, potentially exposing you to cybercriminals ready to take advantage of your personal information. Shop over secure connections, Wi-Fi networks that require passwords for access. If you have a secure connection at home, wait until you return to continue shopping online. Another great option to consider for your home is a VPN, which can provide additional protection for your web browsing. There are many VPN options out there, including NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Norton Security’s VPN, and others.

8. Beware of gift card tampering

43% of Americans are planning to buy gift cards this year, topping tech, toys, and additional categories, according to BusinessWire. If a gift card is on your list and you’re planning to buy it in-store, beware of tampering. Thieves are getting savvier, making note of card numbers and PINs so they can drain the cards. Look out for cards that appear to have a tampered sticker that protects the PIN. You may also want to consider purchasing your gift cards online this year as an alternative.

What If I Suspect I’m a Victim of Fraud?

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam or fraud, here are some steps you can take:

  • Report it to your bank or card issuing institution. You can ask for a hold to be placed on your account and provide further details for assistance.
  • You can also report scams to the local police or a local FBI field office. The FBI also encourages reporting scams to their Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  • To check your credit, you can request a credit report and submit a fraud report to either TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.

We share additional tips and information on identity theft and how you can avoid becoming a victim. Enjoy the holidays and keep these online shopping tips in mind.

Photo Credit

Photo by Prostock-Studio / Kerkez / GettyImages

Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of Safety.com's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on Today.com and elsewhere.

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