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Safe online shopping

Tech Talk

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday (who names these things), and all the traditional non-holiday related reasons for shopping, many people will fire up their computers, tablets and phones and head online and engage in some e-commerce.

Here's how to be safe while filling your online shopping cart.


The #1 tip for safe online shopping is to only shop on sites using HTTPS encryption. You know, that little lock symbol in the address bar next to the address of the site you're on? HTTPS encryption ensures that the data sent between you and your shopping site is unreadable to any bad guys.

Even bad guys posing as good guys can have an HTTPS-encrypted site, so here are some other things to watch out for on the sites you shop on.

The site itself

Mainstream e-commerce sites spend a lot of time and money making their sites look great and work well no matter what device you might be using. If you're chasing down a hard-to-find or in-demand gift item and end up on a site that looks like somebody just threw it together a few minutes ago, move along. It might be a skimmer site trying to get your credit/debit card info out of you.

Just like a site's design, pay attention to the content of the site. Typos, poorly written descriptions, and a general lack of high-quality non-shopping related content (a store locater, a Contact Us page, a Support page or Your Orders page) might point to a fraudulent site. Of course, any site can have typos. One or two, maybe. More than that, it might be time to point your browser at a different site.

Weird business names, site names, and email addresses

These might be harder to spot now that there are so many nonsensically named companies selling products on Amazon and other major retailers (really, Amazon? You want me to buy a Car Battery Jump Starter from a company called GIMFOOM?)

Of course, a site with an address of "that-gift-you've-been-looking-for-ata-super-low-price-forshoppong2023.com" is easy to spot. But watch out for email addresses on a Contact Us page that look like the ones that always send you spam. You know, something like "[email protected]" from an email I just got on a fake invoice, supposedly from Norton.

Contact Us details

Stay away when a site doesn't provide several ways to contact them for support or to answer product questions. Even if it's an actual site from an honest company, let's not do business with people who don't want to hear from us.

Other tips

Use credit cards while shopping online instead of debit cards. While both cards have good fraud-prevention teams on the back end, your liability for fraudulent charges on your card is different.

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card transactions, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act protects debit card transactions. Credit cards limit your liability, allow you to dispute charges, and aren't directly linked to your bank account. Debit cards directly connect to your bank account, and recovering money lost in a fraudulent transaction may not be easy.

Of course, the best online payment method may be to use an online payment platform like PayPal, GooglePay, or ApplePay. Then, the retailer, legitimate or not, never sees your credit or debit information at all.

Not online shopping

A man with one hand walks into a thrift shop.

He finds a cashier and asks if he can schedule an appointment.

"Sir, this is a thrift shop," the cashier says.

He looks at her, puzzled, before realizing his error.

"Oh, my apologies, I was told this was a second hand shop."

Do you have a computer or technology question? Email Greg at [email protected].