Tips for safe online shopping

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Scott Boyd

June 18, 2020

Travel and lifestyle

Has the closure of retail stores during the COVID-19 pandemic forced you to do more of your shopping online? If so, you’re not alone. Since the beginning of the crisis there has been a significant increase in online shopping. In a recent press release Canada Post warned of further delivery delays because the corporation is currently shipping parcels at “record levels”.

Even as stores slowly start to reopen across the Canada, retailers expect that online shopping will continue to attract a growing audience. Whether you are an experienced online shopper or are a more recent convert, these important tips can help you keep your personal information safe when dealing with online sellers.

1. Keep software and virus protection programs current

You may have the most sophisticated anti-virus and spyware programs already installed on your computer, but if they are not updated with the latest versions, you are not as protected as you could be. Hackers and online scammers are constantly changing their tactics and their methods so you need to stay one step ahead.

For more information on some of the ways cybercriminals operate, check out the Government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe resource site.

2. Be careful when using public Wi-Fi

Connecting to public Wi-Fi may be OK for general surfing, but you should think twice before conducting tasks like online shopping or banking. Even something as simple as logging in to your favourite social media platform from a vulnerable Wi-Fi network could allow online scammers to capture your username and password.

The primary concern with public Wi-Fi is that you don’t know how diligent the Wi-Fi host has been with defending its network. When it comes to protecting your privacy and sensitive information, it’s just not worth the risk.

3. Stick to well-known shopping sites

When shopping online, it’s best to deal with well-known online shopping sites and websites from established merchants. Be especially wary of online offers you receive from an unsolicited email or a random post that shows up in your social media feeds.

4. Look for secure websites when paying

Whenever you enter your personal and financial details on an online shopping website, verify that the site is providing you with a secure connection for sending this information. You can verify that the site you are on has a secure connection by checking that the URL for the site begins with “https” rather than simply “http”.

5. Clear your cache

When you complete a transaction online, it’s a good practise to clear your cache. This helps protect your privacy by removing any “cookies” that might have been established with websites you’ve visited.

Generally speaking, cookies are harmless and simply track your internet activity and store information about you. This enables a website to recall things such as your name and address when you fill out a form but in some cases, this could represent a security risk. Clearing your cache to delete cookies can also help improve your device’s performance so regularly clearing your cache is a good idea.

6. Review return policies and other fees

While not directly related to online security as such, when dealing with online sellers you want to be sure that you can return items that don’t meet your expectations. In some cases you can return items you purchase online to one of the seller’s retail outlets, but what if the seller doesn’t have a store nearby or operates entirely online?

Most larger retailers provide shipping labels so you can return items free of charge, but this service is not offered by all online sellers. Some sellers may also charge a restocking fee or allow only a very short window of time for you to return an item.

Keep in mind as well that if you purchase an item that is being shipped from outside Canada, you will be charged taxes and brokerage fees. Purchases exceeding $20 are also subject to duty fees and this can add significantly to your overall purchase price.