These days, we can click a few buttons on our phone or computer and have products delivered directly to our front door within hours of purchasing. On top of the convenience of online shopping, coronavirus restrictions have many of us adjusting to new ways of getting things done, including checking items off our holiday lists.
With many of us limiting our person-to-person interaction, eMarketer predicts that US brick-and-mortar retail will decline 4.7% to $822.79 billion and US retail e-commerce sales will jump 35.8% to $190.47 billion during the 2020 holiday season.
More people will be shopping online than ever this year and unfortunately, scammers are also keeping up the pace. Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 467,361 complaints (about 1,300 every day) and recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims.
The path from clicking a link to making a purchase online can happen fast and it is important to stay on guard. As the holiday shopping season starts to ramp up, remember these ten tips for keeping yourself safe when shopping online:
- Shop at stores you know. Browse the websites of stores you also visit in person regularly. Bookmark these favorite stores in your internet browser and avoid typing in the URL each time. Typos in URLs may lead you to untrusted websites so double-check that the link of the website you’re visiting is spelled correctly.
- Read reviews and research new retailers. If you decide to shop at a new or new-to-you retailer, do some quick research on whether the store is reliable. Look for reviews from other shoppers and check the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Scammers have been known to copy content from existing websites to create lookalike fraudulent sites, according to the FBI. You can even go a step further and email or call the business to verify their site information.
- Avoid offers that are too good to be true. Use a piece of age-old advice and trust your gut: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of incredibly low prices or even free offers, as they could be a trick that scammers use to lure their victims.
- Use private Wi-Fi networks and secure websites. Do not give out your personal information, especially payment information when you are using the internet over a public or shared Wi-Fi connection. Hackers with access to these public networks may be able to spy on your activity. Reputable websites will also use technologies including SSL (Secure Socket Layer) that encrypt the data you send them. Look for a little lock next to the URL in your browser to know you are on a safe site.
- Create smart passwords. Create different passwords for the sites and platforms you access. Use a mix of lower and uppercase numbers, letters, and symbols. Do not use names of people or pets that someone could easily find out by looking at your social media accounts.
- Avoid email “phishing” scams. “Phishing” scams are designed to trick you into giving someone personal information like your Social Security Number, password, or credit card number and could lead to identity theft. Do not open emails from anyone unfamiliar. If you accidentally open something suspicious, do not click on any links or attachments. The link or attachment could put your computer or phone at risk for a virus or malware. When you are unsure if the email is legitimate, give the sender a call to verify the message.
- Track your order. When holiday shopping online, save or print out your order confirmation and keep it in a safe place. Use this information to track your package once it ships from the company. Contact the seller if your package is delayed or goes missing.
- Deliver items to a safe place. Most retailers can deliver items to a location that is different from your home. Request that items be delivered to an office or kept with a building door attendant to avoid items being stolen from the front of your home or apartment.
- Take extra precautions when purchasing from an individual. People regularly sell and shop for items using networks like Facebook Marketplace. Take the extra step and verify a seller’s identity by looking at their Facebook profile. Report any suspicious offers. If you meet with a seller, Facebook recommends arranging your meeting in a public, well-lit area or a police station. Let others know your plans and who you are meeting.
- Report scams. If it happens to you, file a complaint and report scams with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Follow these tips while browsing for all the gifts on your holiday list this year. With some simple precautions, shopping online can be safe and set us up for a happy holiday.
Johansen (2020, November 10). 15 Tips for Safer Online Shopping. Retrieved from:
Better Business Bureau (2020, October 13). BBB Tip: Phishing Scams. Retrieved from:
FBI (2020, February 11). 2019 Internet Crime Report Released. Retrieved from: