Product Reviews, 13 Payment Tips and Others to Ensure You Shop Safely Online

This post is divided into two main parts: How to read a product review that helps you make safe purchases online and how to stay safe when paying online. There’s even a bonus section which gives you extra safety advice.

A shopper shopping online

You love online shopping, don’t you?

You’re not the only one. Many other people adore it too. Why not when there are so many benefits to online shopping.

You can shop in your pajamas. You wouldn’t have to leave your house. There’ll be no traffic to fight to drive to the mall and circle the parking lot. Online stores are open around the clock. Product selection is huge, including items sold outside of your country. Comparing prices between multiple retailers to find a bargain and save money is a breeze. You can read both customer and professional reviews of products before you make your purchase. Products are shipped right to your door (and with Amazon Key, even dropped inside your door, too!). returns are easy, with the right e-tailers.

Unfortunately the beauty of shopping online is being offset by more and more unscrupulous people. They lurk online and use false pretenses to scam you out of your money or steal your card details.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center asserted that the number one cybercrime of 2017 was connected to online shopping. Things like non-payment for goods purchased, non-delivery of goods purchased, and phishing. This, according to the APWG’s Phishing Activity Trends Report, was at an all-time high during Q2 2018,.

And when the headlines are screaming with sensational hacking cases, such as the cyber-attack on Israel’s El Al airline and national stock exchange and the compromised information on online superstore Zappos, your immediate feeling might be to give up Internet shopping altogether.

But with almost everything being done on the internet now, you will be as successful as the Luddites who tried to block the coming of electricity to save their candle industries.

So instead of brushing aside this essential tool altogether, the best thing is to learn how to stay safe when shopping online. That is, to keep your information safe, especially while providing your personal information when shopping online.

We are going to offer you simple rules that you can follow to have a safe and secure online shopping and paying experience.

Now, let’s look at the first part of this post which answers the question: what are the tips to stay safe online while shopping?

A raised thumb against dialogue signs in multicolours to show product reviews

A. How to Make the Best Use of Online Product and Service Reviews to Shop Safely Online

People have long counted on the advice and recommendations of others before making decisions, purchasing not excepted. And today there’s no dearth of customer ratings and reviews to help you decide if products or services you are considering buying are worth your hard-earned money.

Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson said in the study Online Shopping and E-Commerce that “Fully 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, including 40% who say they always or almost always do so.”

If you’re planning to buy a home entertainment system, follow an online course, or outsource a task, for example, you’re also probably going to check out online reviews of the products and services beforehand.

How often shoppers consult online reviews is also linked to their frequency of shopping online. According to the same Smith and Anderson study, about 67%, or two-thirds, of weekly online shoppers claim they hardly fail to read customer reviews before buying new items. For monthly online shoppers the figure was 54%.  Among those who shop less often online, it dropped to 38%.

“Overall, online shoppers are eight times more likely than those who never shop online to say they typically check online reviews before buying something for the first time (49% vs. 6%),” said the study.

Reading written online reviews is not the only way many Americans seek to shop safely online. 55% of U.S. adults say they have relied on product review videos online for their purchases.

Despite that figure, many Americans have reservations concerning the sincerity of online reviews posted on review sites. Generally, very experienced users of online reviews give their accuracy and truthfulness credence.

Concerning the tone of online reviews, highly negative reviews influence Americans more (54%) than highly positive ones (43%) when trying to make purchasing decisions.

Although federal, state and local government agencies have long exercised oversight for issues pertaining to product safety and consumer protection, Americans exhibit rather higher levels of trust in ratings and reviews. Many feel that they help consumers feel confident about their purchases and make companies accountable to their customers.

While online reviews is the indicated way to verify the quality or legitimacy of your intended purchase, know that not all sites (and all reviews) are good and accurate. You therefore have to adopt a critical attitude towards the reviews you read so as to make an informed decision.

That is why we are going to give you a certain number of tips to make the best use of online reviews to determine the legitimacy of a review site or a review itself.

IMPORTANT written in red on a rectangular sheet surrounded by others in black to signify the importance of online product reviews

Why is Product Review Important? – Here are Review Sites to Check

Product reviews could be your safest way to purchase online.

There are several different sources for online reviews:

1. Blogs: Many bloggers review products on their websites showing you how to protect yourself when shopping online. Such reviews written by niche bloggers are often well detailed, with photographs and tips showing how to use the product or service.

Make sure of the blogger’s reputation before accepting their recommendation of a product or service. Some bloggers are affiliates of programs. So they earn a commission if you purchase a product or a service on clicking a link in the review. For this reason, they may not be that much impartial in their review of the product or service.

That is why it is a requirement for bloggers to disclose in blog posts if they received the product under review for free, have any connection to a business or product, accept paid advertising for the product/businesses, or if the post contains affiliate links.

2. City Guides: Local city guides publish user reviews giving information about small neighborhood businesses. They are useful for people visiting or moving to their towns and also for locals desirous to know more about their city.

Unfortunately the advent of mega-review sites like Yelp have killed some of the old city guides or reduced them into virtual ghosts, whose reviews may be outdated. Therefore verify the dates on such reviews before to see how current they are.

3. Consumer Complaint Sites: These are dedicated solely to consumer complaints. Often they are not moderated enough for you to determine whether a consumer lodging the complaint ever tried to liaise with the incriminated company for a resolution. Therefore you should view such sites with some skepticism.

Many complaint sites allow businesses to respond to posted complaints, thus giving a balanced view of the issue. However, check how the complaint site verifies the identity of people responding to complaints as business owners or employees. This will avoid you reading exchanges between sock puppets.

4. Consumer Written Reviews: Some consumers leave their own impromptu reviews of the products and services they engage with online. Asked about this concerning products, restaurants and services, the Online Shopping and E-Commerce study found “Around one-in-ten Americans respondents nearly always post their own reviews about each of these items, while roughly half sometimes post their own reviews about products and services (a slightly smaller share – 43% – sometimes post their own reviews about the restaurants they visit)”.

5. Dedicated Review Sites: Such sites like Epinions, Yelp, and Angie’s List publish consumer reviews which show you how to shop safely and securely online. They aren’t as sales-driven as e-commerce sites although they may make money from advertising and affiliate programs. Given that these sites make the effort to attract new visitors and reviewers, they feature multiple recent reviews of the same business or product.

However you must check how they moderate their reviewers and manage their review listings. For if a site accepts advertising from reviewed businesses, they may remove negative reviews about them in order not to disconcert an advertiser. Also check the site’s ways of vetting the quality of a review and if they willingly pull reviews (good and bad) that turn out not to be legitimate.

6. E-commerce Sites: Retail sites like Amazon use a ratings system integrated into their product listings. Hence, to buy a certain product, you can check out the reviews of several different vendors while doing your comparison shopping.

Often the reviews come from real users of the product who provide detailed information. However it is not ruled out that some unscrupulous retailers may delete negative reviews about their products. Poor moderation of reviews may also enable people to add fake reviews (positive or negative) to a site.

Another cause for caution are the case of companies that may actually make people write good reviews of their products against rewards.

How can you spot such reviews?

Be on the lookout for posters with no long history of posting on the site. Check for those who praise a product without giving enough details to support their argument. Also be wary of reviewers who resort to the use of specific keywords or phrases (such as a product’s full name and its brand name) several times in their reviews.

7. Social Media Sites: Social media platforms are now outlets for consumers to share their thoughts and experiences about products and services they have purchased. So, many consumers hop on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to make their complaints and concerns known.

Online Shopping and E-Commerce “finds that 39% of U.S. adults say they have shared their experiences or feelings about companies or products on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.” They did so for both positive and negative reasons.

You may therefore check these sites for what consumers have to say about certain companies’ service or products.

In some cases, when efforts to resolve a situation via a company’s customer service department fail, an enraged customer may turn to social media to vent their spleen against the company. Sadly, others jump on social media the first thing, without even trying to contact a company via phone or email.

Such cases, especially the last one, may give the false impression that a company takes customer complaints not seriously. You therefore have to read the complaints and any company responses to pass a balanced judgment.

If you’re interacting with brands on social media, make sure they’re “verified.” Just check for the little blue checkmark by their profile. This is what show that the company is legit.

3 smileys with the top one in green smiling, the seocnd bland and the third unhappy to show reviews

Review the Reviews Themselves

Once you are settled on some review sites, you must not trust their reviews yet. You need to evaluate the reviews themselves for the best information on how to stay safe online. Considering that a review may be biased (positively or negatively) or written under the effect of anger, it’s important to be guided by the following points:

  • Check the Number of Reviews: While too much of everything is bad, that’s not the case with product or service reviews. The more reviews you consult, the better the real image of the product you would have.
  • Check the Posting Dates: This is because an old review may not reflect the current status of the business in question.
  • Be Alert to Patterns: Should certain patterns emerge systematically in reviews (for example, complaints or praise about a particular item, restaurant service, or shop), that’s a good indication of what to expect from a product or service. Patterns in grammar, syntax, and misspelled words also count. Because several reviews for a product or a service that have the same phrases or misspelled words may signify one individual posting under different names.

A finger hitting the fifth of yellow stars on a bluish board for reviewer ratings

Look up the Reviewer

On most review sites, you will find a link from a user’s name or avatar to his or her other reviews. Check these out to get to know the reviewer better.

If it is a blogger, and you find that they have some influence within the blogging community, their reviews should probably be worth your attention. But should it be another reviewer, you could trust them if you see that they consistently write thoughtful, balanced reviews.

Some other rule to keep in mind for staying safe online:

  • Reviews Full of Anger: If the reviewer often resorts to profanity or threats to report to the authorities, they may be overly vindictive.
  • Reviews Containing Personal Attacks: An incident of poor customer service should be just that. But when it is mixed with matters irrelevant to the product or service reviewed (for example, a staff member’s appearance, religion, origin, accent, etc.), then an individual is being targeted.
  • New Reviewers: Every reviewer was new at some time and this does not necessarily affect the quality of the review. But a “newbie,” especially the one posting anonymously, may have an agenda.
  • Tastes and Preferences: Get a sense of the reviewer’s tastes and preferences, and see if they match yours or differ from them. So that if you love one thing and the reviewer or blogger consistently praises another, chances are that accepting their suggestion will more than likely disappoint you.

BAD written on a piece of paper against a grey background to signify bad review

What If You Fell On Bad Reviews?

If the business you’d like to work with or the product or service you’d like to patronize has bad reviews, the common sense course of action is to switch to a better-rated company. But what if you like the badly rated company/product/service because of its good price, fast delivery times, uniqueness, or other quality?

Contact the company to request their side of the story. Ask questions regarding the points raised in the dissatisfied review. Move on if you don’t get a convincing answer.

Alternatively, or concurrently, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau or your state’s attorney general to check out a business’ record.

Don’t overlook friends and family. Although the Internet has supplanted these people for recommendations, word-of-mouth still remains the best way to judge a business/product/service.

FAKE written on pieces of wooden cubes among other wooden cubes

How to Spot Fake Reviews on Big Brands like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and Others

Amazon

Rick Broida told a true story. Some friends of his purchased a GPS locator for their daughter and couldn’t get it to work. So they brought it to him for a solution but he too couldn’t do anything.

This puzzled his friends as the product had a five-star rating on Amazon.

When Rick checked the product page. It really had 37 five-star reviews. By reading through the customer reviews of a product on amazon, a customer forms a perception. But that also solved the mystery. All the reviews were fakes.

This raises the question:

What’s a Fake Review?

It is a short false critical article made to appear genuine and posted by a company or an individual with the intention to deceive people and sell more products.

One or two of them for a product may not do anybody much harm but too many would artificially inflate the product rating. And that’s problematic.

“It’s way too easy to glance at a four- or five-star average and think, ‘OK, this must be good!’” observes Rick Broida  in How to spot fake reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and other sites. “Few folks are going to take the time to dig into each and every review — or every reviewer — to look for red flags.”

A few years ago, Amazon declared it would start cracking down on incentivized reviews, that is, those posted in return for free or discounted products. Sure enough, reviews with such a disclaimer embedded in them are hard to find.

Does this point to a decrease in make-believe reviews? Not in the least.

Since that’s the case, you need tools to help you detect fake reviews and also how to interpret the results and stay safe online.

Fakespot

Fakespot is a free site you can use to analyze product reviews to distinguish the authentic from the bogus. All you need do is copy and paste the link to the product page, then click Analyze.

Fakespot originally focused its algorithms on Amazon alone. Then they added TripAdvisor and Yelp support later. The company has even recently introduced search engines for Best Buy, Sephora, Steam and Walmart.

To make Fakespot easy to use, you download it as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Now, anytime you want to check a review, you just click the Fakespot icon in your toolbar to get an instant analysis. It’s also available for Android and iOS for those who need the app on the go.

With the additions we talked about earlier, Fakespot detected that only over 50 percent of Walmart reviews were not authentic and reliable. But for Best Buy, it was fewer than 5 percent.

To arrive at these results, the system examines both reviews and reviewers. In so doing, it searches for bad spelling and grammar, the number of reviews, purchasing patterns, mismatched dates and other suspicious signs of fraudulent review activity.

Let’s take the case of a reviewer who’s new to Amazon. They post just a single review with words like “great” and “amazing” many times. That review will certainly be marked “unreliable.”

Better still, at the end of the analysis, Fakespot will provide you a letter grade based on the total number of reviews analyzed and how many were found unreliable.

For example, if, say, 57 percent of the reviews for a computer brand were marked as unreliable, it will receive an “F.” That makes you keep your distance from the product.

Does that mean that the product is bad?

Not necessarily.

We will see why later.

ReviewMeta

ReviewMeta is an Amazon-only analyzer developed by Tommy Noonan. You paste in an Amazon link or use one of the browser extensions and ReviewMeta reassesses the weight of certain reviews, leaving you with an adjusted rating.

ReviewMeta reveals that fully half the reviews here are open to question. As for the “good” ones, they receive a lower product rating of 3.9 stars replacing the 4.3.

So, instead of Fakespot’s letter grade, which can be misleading, ReviewMeta displays the real Amazon average rating.

Can You Trust the Two Apps to Shop Safely Online?

Let’s see.

Often, Fakespot and ReviewMeta give contradictory results of the same product’s reviews. There are instances where one tool gave the reviews a pass and the other said they were largely phony.

Noonan told Rick Broida, “It’s impossible for someone to definitively determine whether a review is ‘fake’ or ‘real.’ Not even a human can do it, so it’s impossible to really determine how ‘accurate’ Fakespot or ReviewMeta is.”

However Noonan was quick to add, “The tool isn’t really intended to just give you a black and white answer, but more to show you all the data that we possibly can and then let you make your own decision.”

So, what to do?

First, analyze everything you read critically. Secondly, in all circumstances use your gumption.

Now, let’s go to the second part of this piece to see other tips, this time, to help you pay safely online.

A glass jar with the word Tip written on a yellowish paper pasted on it to show a tip given somebody

B. 13 Tips to Help You Stay Safe While Paying Online

Just as with shopping, paying has never been easier or more convenient for consumers with the advent of the internet. But with the bad guys who lay in wait, paying online has also become nightmarish.

Exercising caution and protecting yourself when paying online is very important to stay safe online. You might lose a bit of money if you buy from a fake seller, but you can lose a lot, or even everything, if online thieves manage to steal your details.

Imagine. When a recent PCMag survey asked people if they had experienced a cyber-attack like credit card fraud, malware, or ransomware, a whopping 25 percent answered in the affirmative.

Alarming, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Paying online security is not a given.

But that’s not reason enough to stop shopping and paying online. As an African proverb says, “It isn’t for the fact that we’ll die one day that we’ll refuse to sleep.” Like all dangers, you have to be prepared to face it. Some common sense and a good dose of practical advice will help you in this wise.

So use these tips to protect your personal identity from malicious types and stay safe while paying online.

There are several things you can do to keep yourself safe online.

VIRUS written on a red key among other computer keys to show threats to a computer

1. Shield Your Computer from Threats

The more consumers are shielded against online threats, the smarter swindlers try to get. So they no longer wait for you to reveal your data. They give you a bait to lure you into their traps. You therefore need to regularly update your antivirus program to protect yourself against malware.

Even, you must go for a full-blown security suite. This offers you antivirus software protection, and others which will combat spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites. The last two respectively refer to attempts to steal your personal information by trying to look like a real message or by disguising as a legit site.

It is therefore important to constantly be on the lookout for updates on your browser and anti-virus software. Updates often contain improvements which help protect you and your devices from scammers and other online criminals.

In other words, it’s not enough to just have software installed. New versions of your Internet browsers, like Firefox and Google Chrome, get a boost in security. Older browsers, as well as operating systems and anti-virus software, often have security holes that hackers exploit. Updates will keep you at least a step ahead of identity thieves and keep you safe from any new threats which are always showing up.

A lock used with chains to show secure website

2. Make sure the website is secure

Only ever put your card or payment details into secure websites.

But how you can tell if a website is secure?

Be on the look-out for the following four signs to know that you are paying safely online:

Lock or Padlock symbol: Be sure to always use a secure Internet connection when making a purchase or a payment online. Reputable websites use the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology that encrypt data during transmission so that only the intended recipient can see it.

What does that mean to you?

There should be an icon of a little locked padlock in the address bar before the website address or the status bar down below (unbroken key at the bottom of the screen), depending on your browser.

Valid certificate: If you click the padlock symbol or just to the left of the address bar, you should get information on the site certificate. This tells you who has registered the site. Should you get a warning about a certificate, quickly click out of that website.

Website address – The website URL should start with https:// instead of just http://.

The “s” stands for “secure.” This could mean you are on one of the safe online shopping sites.

https:// is now pretty standard even on non-shopping sites, to the extent that Google Chrome flags any page without the “s” as “not secure.”

Green address bar: Some browsers will tell you if it’s safe to give out your credit card by showing you a green address bar, while unprotected ones will be highlighted in red

Remember, these signs only mean the site is secure, not that the seller is honest.

A hand holding a red credit card before a laptop screen to singify they are about to make a payment

3. Use a Secure Payment Method – Pay Using a Credit Card + PayPal

Using a credit card is really the only best way to pay online. If you purchase something from a scam site using a debit card, check, or cash, your money is gone forever. For, there’s no way for you to get it back. Also should your debit card be compromised, it could give scammers direct access to your bank funds.

So be really wary of sites, sellers and apps that only accept money orders, wire transfers, or checks. That is a big red flag.

Look for well-known security labels such as DigiCert, VeriSign, and other seals.

Using an e-money service like PayPal keeps you covered as you don’t have to give out your bank or card details.

Therefore only shop on sites that accept secure payment methods, such as credit cards and PayPal. These as likely give you buyer protection in case of a dispute. Which means you won’t be held liable for fraudulent charges. Even before that happens, you might be notified by your credit card company or bank if they detect any suspicious activity.

Even if you pay using a credit card through PayPal, or similar service, you will not get the additional protection.

At the very least, limit your online spending to one traditional credit card so the damage and hassle is contained to one credit card company if you do get hacked.

Find out more about credit card protection and chargeback here.

Credit cards in a purselaid on a credit card statement

4. Check Your Credit Card Statement Regularly

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, if you use a credit card for purchases and there are fraudulent charges, the card company have to reimburse you in part for them. In effect, you are only responsible for up to $50 of charges you didn’t authorize. This means credit card companies are liable for such charges above $50 and must therefore watch out to stop scammers.

But they can’t always catch purchases you didn’t make or receive. So you must keep an eye on your statements.

So don’t wait till the end of the month for your bill to arrive. Jump online frequently and pore over your electronic statements for your credit and debit cards, as well as your checking accounts.

Be alert for any fraudulent charges, even coming from trusted payment sites like PayPal, Payeer, SolidTrustPay, and Venmo. There are many ways for online rogues to steal your money.

If you detect anything fishy on your statement, quickly contact your credit card company to dispute the charge. Possibly, get a new card so the charges won’t continue.

You have 30 days to notify the bank or card issuer of problems. Beyond that you might be liable for the charges.

5. Use a Virtual Credit Card Number

Sometimes it could happen that you can’t help having something on a site you’re unfamiliar with. Then you’re advised to use a virtual credit card number. This allows you to shop online without exposing your real account nor credit card number.

Several banks offer these kind of temporary credit card numbers. You set the amount and time frame for a purchase and then they give you a card number to use online.

This allows you to avoid or minimize any damage since the number will expire relatively quickly. Besides, the card has a lower maximum spending amount.

A smartphone with earphones, a VISA credit card and a pen lying on a book to signigy pay with a phone

6. Even Skip the Card and Pay with Your Phone

Even brick-and-mortar stores accept payments using your smartphone. This method is actually even more secure than using your credit card. For a mobile payment app like Apple Pay generates a one-use authentication code for your purchase that no other person could ever steal and use.

Phone payment also enables you to avoid card skimmers
as you don’t have to take your credit card with you to places that accept phone payments.

Many an app now accepts payment from Apple Pay and Google Pay. This is the case of Groupon, Airbnb, Staples, Ticketmaster, Starbucks, and many more.

You can also simply use apps provided directly by retailers, like Amazon and Target. All you have to do is use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly without even going on the website.

A smiling lady in front of her computer paying for her online shopping with a smartphone

7. Be Careful However When Paying Online Using Your Mobile Device

Paying with your smartphone online may be convenient but you are not as protected against threats as when using your laptop. Contrary to your laptop, most phones aren’t equipped with an anti-virus software. This makes it easier for criminals to surreptitiously get malware installed on your mobile device to help them steal information you enter.

Also, the shortened URLs that are often used because they are phone-friendly make it hard for you to tell if a site is secure or trusted. This can therefore inadvertently make you visit a wrong one.

Your phone can also be misplaced or stolen and make your details available to unauthorized persons. Therefore make your phone password protected so any information you may have stored on it isn’t easily accessible.

Someone loging into a site on their android phone

8. Password Tips

Use Strong Passwords for Online Accounts: Always create strong passwords for your online accounts.

What is a strong password?

A strong password is the one which is at least seven characters long, has a combination of letters, numbers, symbols (special characters), and some uppercase characters, too.

Better still, use a phrase or sentence. This is typically a long sequence of strung-together words, sometimes with a number and symbol in there, too.

For example, the sentence “I bought my third hp brand laptop June21” could be used to create a passphrase like “Ibm3hpblJ21!”

Tell me which rogue is going to guess this!

Yet even your perfect password isn’t perfect enough. The smarter move is to use a password management app to create uncrackable passwords. It’ll also keep track of them and enter them, so you don’t have to rack your brain about them. Uncrackable passwords are crucial when banking, shopping and paying online.

Find out more about creating strong, secure passwords on the Get Safe Online website.

Set up a Two-step Verification: A two-step verification uses a combination of your chosen password and your consent to secure your account against any unauthorized access.

In effect, after entering your password, you may have to enter your secret code. Or, the system may send you a secret code on your phone to enter before having access.

Check how to set up Google’s two-step verification: With a few minutes of setup time, your account will be far more secure.

Change Your Passwords Regularly: It’s not your fault if you wince at this idea. We know how irritable it is to go through and change the passwords on all your online accounts. There’s also the trouble of remembering them all.

But if you really want to keep your personal details, bank account, and card information safe when shopping online, it’s advisable to reset your passwords every so often, say every three to six months. This is just in case someone guesses them, or if there’s a data breach somewhere, such as at your online retailer.

Besides, refrain from using the same password for all your online shopping sites (or other Web activities, like online banking or email accounts). For when someone guesses one password, they’re all vulnerable and the ruffian will have free reign over all your accounts.

So frequently changing your password limits any hackers who may break into your account.

A blurred image signifying blur yourself online

9. Blur Yourself Online

What about a browser add-on that acts as a basic password manager and so much more? That’s what Abine’s Blur is.

For $39 a year, the app will enable you shop without revealing anything concerning you: emails, phone numbers, or even credit card numbers.

PCMag found it so impressive as an online privacy solutions that they’ve seen in 2018 that they’ve named it an Editors’ Choice and featured it in their Best Tech Products of 2018. Read the full review here.

Buy it at Abine

A restaurant displaying sign for a free wi-fi inside which should be avoided when shopping online for security reasons

10. Shun Public Wi-Fi  – Better Stick to Your Private Network to Shop Safely Online

When you enter personal or card information using a public computer or a public Wi-Fi network, you’re exposing yourself dangerously for identity theft.

A public computer can be found in an airport lounge and a public Wi-Fi network at your favorite coffee shop, shopping centers or in a hotel lobby.

They are not secure because most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt your data. So any hacker using the right software at where you’re sharing Wi-Fi can simply intercept your sensitive data.

Even a recently discovered vulnerability could allow ruffians to capture your sensitive data being transmitted between a Wi-Fi access point and a computer or mobile device, even if that data is encrypted.

So if you’re shopping using a public hotspot, stick to known networks, like those at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble stores. Although you can trust any of the providers in this PCMag roundup of the
Fastest Free Nationwide Wi-Fi
, you’re better off using a virtual private network.

For more, read PCMag’s Tips for Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Security.

So if you have to divulge information that could make you vulnerable, wait until you get home to your protected network. Or use your smartphone as a personal hotspot. This is safer than free Wi-Fi.

Another alternative is to use gift cards, like many retailers provide. This is a smart way to shop because you don’t provide any of your financial information.

It is also important to keep all your devices up to date. By turning on “automatic updates,” your updated web browser and third-party add-ons could warn you if you land on suspicious websites.

Also always have good anti-malware (“anti-malicious software”) installed to stop threats like viruses.

Finally, a good reason not to use your credit card at a public hotspot is this: when you are entering the credit card number and the expiration date on a website while sitting in a public cafe, it’s a golden opportunity for an over-the-shoulder snooper to see the goods. If you have to use it at all, sit in the back, facing the door. Or, use sites that already have your credit card details stored, so you don’t have to pull it out.

People sharing food and drinks in a restaurant to signify to people to refrain from oversharing

11. Refrain From Oversharing

An online shopping e-tailer who asks for your Social Security number or your birthday to do business is a big red flag. Think crooks if you see this. They are out to get your credit card number and other pieces of information.

The more scammers know about you, the easier it is for them to steal your identity and do a lot of damage. If you must give personal data, default to giving up as little as possible. Even major sites get breached.

A lamb drinking mother's milk to signify instinct

12. Trust Your Instincts

Is a site asking for too much personal information during the shopping or the checkout process? Don’t hesitate to quit the transaction and click out of the site.

Does a site look like it was designed in the ’90s? Does it have a weird address? Does it fill your screen with pop-ups? These are tell-tale signs. Just forget about it all.

A shrieking duck to signify complain everywhere

13. Complain Everywhere

Don’t let embarrassment make you hush matters up if you get scammed while shopping or paying online. That can happen to anybody. “Instead, get very, very mad,” is the colourful advice from PCMag as an encouragement to complain to the seller.

And if they don’t give you satisfaction, don’t stop there. If the seller is located in the US, go ahead and report to the Federal Trade Commission, your state’s attorney general, and even the FBI. With foreign sites, check their national agencies.

But know that it will be more complicated to get satisfaction from a foreign agency than a national one.

When I got scammed by a now defunct British company called hypervsp, the agency I complained to passed on the matter to the appropriate team. They should reply me within the following 28 days once they had been able to complete a full review of the information I have provided.

This gave hypervsp time enough to wind up and disappear into thin air. When another British second hand clothes dealer sent a friend rags instead of what he had ordered, he was informed that the company had declare bankruptcy, in which case they were only liable to £1 debt according to British law!

As PCMag said, “If you’re going to get scammed, try to get scammed locally… or at least domestically.”

I wholeheartedly agree with them. You can go to the bad guy’s premises and knock their cheating brains off.

No, that was just a joke. Seriously, don’t ever do it. It’s better to be scammed than scammed and sent to jail.

A trumpeter in jacket to signify bonus

C. Bonus Section – Extra Pieces of Advice to Stay Safely Online

This is where you get information to keep you safe while shopping or paying online which cannot be comfortably fitted into the two sections above. They are nevertheless very important for your protection.

Dig up Information about the Website and Seller: There are thousands of websites on the internet where you can go shopping. Many of them have thousands more independent sellers. The majority of these are perfectly legitimate, but spotting the fraudulent ones takes a bit of research. You can check out the online reviews for independent sellers on a website using a site like TrustPilot.

Better known e-commerce websites are certainly more reliable. But they can be subjected to pharming attacks.

What are website pharming scams?

Pharming scams are used by fraudsters to attack the website you are trying to use. The website will appear as if you’ve gone to the real one, but it’s a fake version designed to steal your information.

Therefore be on the lookout for strange looking web addresses with a selection of numbers or a different spelling.

Find out more about the different types of scams here.

If you’re not sure about a website, perform your due-diligence. Yelp and Google offer you lots of reviews. The Better Business Bureau puts an online directory and a scam tracker at your disposal. Go through the companies with a fine-tooth comb before whipping out your credit card number. It’s not for nothing that non-delivery/non-payment is the most common cybercrime complaint these days.

As we saw earlier, online reviews can also be gamed. If all you see about a website/seller are positive feedbacks and wondering if the writers are legitimate customers, follow your instincts.

It is therefore in your interest to shop at a trusted site. Amazon.com offers everything under the sun. ClickBank, Commission Junction, Peerfly, Clicksure, PayDotCom, Rakuten Linkshare, Aliexpress, and eBay are major sites. Just about every major retail outlet—from Best Buy to Home Depot to Target—has an online store.

Even search results can be rigged to lead you elsewhere, especially when you scroll past the first few pages of links. On a regular site you know, you’re less likely to be ripped off.

However you must be careful of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example) as those are the oldest tricks in the book. Forget how enticing sales on these sites might be. That’s how the scammers bait you into revealing your details.

At least, be absolutely sure you’ve got a concrete address and a working phone number for the seller. By all means, call them before you order so you can clarify a return policy and where to go with any issues after the purchase. Thus, if things go bad, you have a place to take your complaint.

On a marketplace like eBay, you’ll find several sellers. Before buying from any of them, check their reputation by reading comments about the experience past customers have had with them.

Make sure to read and understand the item description before you buy. Note carefully details such as where the seller is located, shipping charges, if the product is new or used, refund and return policies, and payment methods accepted.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask the seller. Reputable ones will reply in a timely manner and supply the required answer without beating about the bush.

The shortest and the simplest way to check if a seller/website is legitimate is to type the company name (below “X” represents the company name) into the Google window and add some keywords such as:

Is X legitimate

Is X a scam

X complaints

Then note what people say about the company.

Be Wary of Deals Which Are Too Sweet: Be on your guard. If a deal looks too good to be true, it very probably is. Online thieves usually use baits to lure their victims into their dirty games.

An example could be a hot “deal” from an unknown merchant selling an iPhone 8 for $200. So always be smarter than them and immediately back out of such schemes.

Don’t Click on Links in Emails: Systematically delete suspicious emails or texts that are supposed to come from legitimate sites—a retailer, your bank or Internet Service Provider. These are “phishing” attempts or scams.

They look legit. But once they ask you to confirm your financial or personal details on a website, know that they’re fake. They’re merely trying to lure you to click a link in the email, which will take you to an authentic-looking but phony website, and dupe you into typing in information which they will gather to steal your identity.

What should you do if you really want to check the site?

Type out its address in your browser to make sure you’re going to the site whose address you have. If that is not the case, when you hit the enter key, the address will change to the phony one.

If you get an email from a site you know but which looks suspicious, make sure you don’t follow the links and don’t provide any financial or personal information the email requests.

Real sites won’t ever ask you for your important information over email. If you have any doubts about an email’s authenticity, just go to the company’s website and get in contact with them.

Watch out for fake shopping apps: Did you know that hundreds of phony retail apps popped up in Apple’s App Store and Google Play (for Android devices)? The owners hoped to trick shoppers into downloading and using them.

These counterfeit app are similar to “phishing” emails. They also look like they’re from legitimate stores, as they come complete with an authentic-looking logo and marketing messaging.

All they want is your credit card information to steal your identity. Some of these apps have been found to contain “malware” (malicious software) that can also infect your mobile device. Others ask you to log in with Facebook credentials to lift your personal data.

How can you avoid them?

To be sure that you’re downloading the legitimate app, get it from the company’s official website. If you’re downloading it from an app store directly, check to see if it’s been around for a few years and has high ratings from many users.

Never be the first to download a new shopping app. But you may counter that somebody has to. Of course. But leave that to the risk-takers.

Know Your Rights, Counterfeiting and the Company’s Privacy and Returns Policy: If the item you’re buying is an expensive one, you must check the manufacturer’s website to make sure you’re dealing with an authorised distributor or seller.

Also find out how long delivery will take and where the item is being shipped from. Should the seller be based in the USA, Australia, Canada, the UK or Europe, they should be able to deliver within a week to buyers in their region.

Find out more about your general consumer rights in this helpful guide.

How would you feel if you ordered an item and the seller sent you one made in imitation or as a forgery? Very bad indeed, wouldn’t you?

Yes, a large online market for selling counterfeit goods really exists. These sham products can often be hard to spot, even when you have one before you. But once you know about this and researching what the real thing would look like and the cost, that will help you when you encounter an offer too good to be true.

But what do you do if something goes wrong?

Your immediate reaction, if you have been sent the wrong or defective items, should be to lodge a complaint with the online seller and the website you used such as eBay or Amazon.

Now, what does a company do with your information and how is it transmitted?

Reading their privacy policy is the only way to know for sure.

But what do most of us do when we are tended a privacy policy? We generally skim over it, especially if it’s lumped with the terms of service that we all hurriedly tick as read and agreed to although we hardly read the even first sentence or paragraph.

But if you want to make sure that your personal data is encrypted and secure and wouldn’t be sold to any third parties, it’s important to read and understand them. If knowledge is power, then lack of it makes you vulnerable to all sorts of abuse.

Check the company’s privacy policy

What about the returns policy? If a seller or online store doesn’t display one somewhere on their website, that should trigger your suspicion mechanism. “Knowing what the policy is will help you if something is not delivered or arrives broken, even if the seller was not trying to scam you,” we read in Shopping and paying safely online.

Beware of the Dangers of Gift Cards

You love Gift cards, don’t you? You’re not alone. We all do. That’s why they are the most requested holiday gift every year.

And scammers profit from that passion for them to auction off gift cards having little or no funds on them on sites like eBay. So you’d be better off sticking to the source itself when buying one.

The many gift card “exchanges” out there are a great idea since they let you trade away cards you don’t want for the ones that you’re fond of. But in this area brimming with scammers, can you trust everyone else offering such a service?

No. For you might get the card and find it’s already been used.

Therefore make sure the site you’re buying gift cards from has a real guarantee policy in place. Better still, since the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know, why not just go directly to a retail brick-and-mortar store to get the physical card?

What if Despite All This Something Still Goes Wrong?

Scammers and fraudsters are agile folks. That’s why they always try to stay a step ahead of measures to counter their malicious acts.

So, consulting review sites (even those with a five-star rating), using your common sense when reading reviews, asking hard questions about the way a business operates, checking a variety of sources for consumer information, depending on your own social network for referrals and advice, may not always spare you from being scammed or defrauded.

So if you paid on card and you’re not satisfied with the retailer’s response, or you have received no response, contact your card provider immediately.

Find out more about how to claim money back on credit cards here.

 

In Shopping and paying safely online, the site MoneyAdviceService offer UK residents the following very useful pieces of advice.

If you think your card has been used fraudulently, contact your bank immediately so they can stop any further damage to you.

If you haven’t acted fraudulently or negligently, usually your card company will give you your money back.

If you think you’ve been targeted by a scam you can also report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, use their online reporting tool or on the FCA Scam Smart website opens in new window.

Learn more about e-payments and how to use them here.

Further reading

Surely you have a contribution to make to this important discussion, don’t you? Simply scroll down to the comments box and let us know what you think. Thanks for your love.

Akoli

Your personal guide to securing your future online

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Posted on: May 24, 2019, by :

2 thoughts on “Product Reviews, 13 Payment Tips and Others to Ensure You Shop Safely Online

  1. Hello Akoli
    Thank you for this excellent information. Not only is it concise and eye opening, you also have stats to back it up.

    We live in a world of good and evil, and it’s more prevalent on the Internet, as they/anyone could be hiding and operating anywhere in the world, and they rarely get caught.

    It pays off to do your due diligence when buying, both investigating what you buy and where you buy it from, so reviews are vitally important.

    Reading your article and your points, will certainly keep me more aware and mindful.

    Thank you
    Mick

    1. Hello Mick,
      I’m thrilled that you liked my information. I’m always trying to be helpful to my visitors. Yes, stats are the way you let people really see what you’re talking about.

      Good and evil, like day and night, are part of this world. We would rather prefer only good but others are bent on wreaking evil on other people. The Internet is the worst. Such a beautiful creation, but as you say, people know they “could be hiding and operating anywhere in the world, and they rarely get caught”.

      But we have to defeat those evil people. And as you rightly noted, “to do your due diligence when buying, both investigating what you buy and where you buy it from, so reviews are vitally important.”

      Yes, reviews help people stay safe online. That’s why it places a heavy burden on bloggers to write valuable ones.

      I’m once again happy that reading my article and my points, will certainly keep you more aware and mindful.

      Stay blessed
      Akoli

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