Today, more and more services and products are available on the Internet. From the chair at my desk I can purchase a pair of running shoes, check my online banking balance, pay my utilities bill, communicate with family and friends on social networking sites, conduct online research from ever-expanding digital archives, and send emails. However, as our reliance on these Internet services grows, more and more of our personal information is being released into a less controlled and regulated environment.
For example, in a shoe store, I am able to walk up to a register, present a cash payment to a sales clerk, and leave with my purchased pair of tennis shoes. However, during an online transaction, I will have to submit my credit or banking information, along with some other personal identification (name, shipping address, number, etc.) and then wait for my shoes to be sent in order to ensure there has been a safe and complete transaction. Notably there is no sales clerk and the transaction occurs over a longer period of time (from purchase until the shipment has been received). It is during that transaction period that consumers can be deceived and taken advantage of.
Today’s post will highlight 10 simple steps to becoming a better online consumer. These steps are segmented into: (1) Shopping Online, (2) Communication Online, and (3) General Computer and Personal Device Tips!
- Is the web site hosted on a secure page? A website hosted on a “https” page has an extra layer of security capabilities to protect against computer security threats.
- Before initiating a transaction with the online vendor, ask yourself: “Have you heard of this online store? How’s its reputation?” If not, do a quick online search of the vendor to check its reputation and validity!
- Before initiating a transaction with the online vendor, search to see if the vendor has shipping or refund policies. An established and reputable merchant is more likely to have founded legitimate policies. Also, check to see if there is a way to contact a customer service representative.
- During the transaction, does the merchant collect more information than is necessary to complete the sale? For example, if you are purchasing a pair of loafers from CoolShoes.com, there is no need for the merchant to be seeking your social security number. Be hesitant to interact with merchants that are seeking inappropriate or sensitive personal information!
- Following the transaction, print your transaction page and keep all your online payment records. This way, if fraud or payment concerns are raised, you are able to present evidence of the transactions to your bank or the concerned entity.
- If possible, always conduct financial transactions on your personal devices!
Communicating Online – Email and Social Networks
7. Be alert for communication scams seeking account numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information. For example, if an unknown person emails you or contacts you on a social networking site, be hesitant to respond to inquiries about your personal information.
General Computer & Personal Device Tips
8. If ever on a public device, always make sure to log out of any page that you have entered onto. Again, it is always best to use your personal device when using Internet services!
9. Create strong (and complex) passwords for your devices and online presence!! For example, try not to use Password as a password! A more complex password could be Pa$sw(0)Rd because it uses letters, numbers, and symbols.
10. Continuously update your device operating system, software, and firewalls to protect your device from online threats.
The Internet is an invaluable resource to consumers! Just by taking a few extra minutes during each transaction, you can protect yourself from online scams and frauds!