Smart and safe online shopping

Online stores can provide convenience and savings not found in traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. Here are some tips you can take to make sure your online shopping experience is as safe as possible.

Before you shop online

  • Install firewalls and anti-virus software. Make sure your computer has a firewall as well as an up-to-date version of anti-virus software. Download updates regularly, and avoid using public computers for online shopping, where your risk is much higher.
  • Check your computer’s encryption. Make sure your browser supports 128-bit encryption so that your credit card number is automatically encrypted (or scrambled) before it is sent. To find your browser’s encryption, check the Help section of each of the browsers that you use for online shopping or banking.

Is the website trustworthy?
If you don't know an online retailer by its brand or reputation, these tips can help you determine whether they're operating a secure and trustworthy website before you shop.

  • Look on the website for third-party seals of approval such as the Better Business Bureau. Companies can put these seals on their sites if they follow standards around things like returns, complaints and how they manage personal information. Clicking on the seal should take you to the website of the named organization, as linked icons can be tracked to ensure they are being used legitimately.
  • Find out what other shoppers have to say about an online store on comparison sites such as Epinions or Bizrate. Both the ranking system and posted comments help you to evaluate shopping websites.
  • Do a background check. Look for a physical address (not a post office box) or call and talk to a company representative before you shop.

Before you enter your credit card number
Before entering your credit card number, make sure the store follows these practices:

  • The company should only require personal information that's necessary to complete the purchase. You will probably enter your credit card number, address and telephone number. Be wary if they ask for other information such as your social insurance number, bank account numbers or your mother's maiden name. Information about things such as personal interests may be asked but should never be required to complete a purchase.
  • The website should use secure technology. When you get to the screen where you enter your credit card number or other personal information, make sure the Web address begins with “https”, such as (The “s” after http stands for “secure”.) Also check to see if a closed padlock icon appears on the browser frame, which indicates a secure webpage.
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