How to Spot Scams When Shopping Online

Once a novelty, more and more Canadians are embracing online shopping. Rather than bargain hunting in stores, many of us shopped online for the first time in 2020, enjoying increased convenience but also opening ourselves to increased risk of scams and cybercrimes.

Cybercriminals have noticed the increased traffic, and they’ve become increasingly savvy at separating naïve online shoppers from their money with elaborate scams. Leaning on tricks such as social engineering and psychological pressure, scammers cost Canadian online shoppers over $100 million in 2020, and that’s only the scams that were reported. The real figure is likely much higher.

With so many risk factors out there, we’ve put together some simple key tips for how to spot scams when shopping online.

Adopt a Cautious Mindset

While big box stores are usually safe to purchase from, it pays to adopt a cautious mindset with smaller sites or “buy and sell” type online marketplaces. If you’re meeting in real life to purchase something from a person you met online, ensure you meet in a safe and public place with plenty of people around. Try to test the goods before completing the purchase, and avoid buying event tickets that aren’t from the source.

Do Your Research

When you’re shopping online, do your research on the company you’re planning to buy from. A quick search will usually be enough to warn you of any major red flags, and it’s worth reading a few reviews to get an idea of how the company handles returns or other complaints. If a store is brand new, or doesn’t feature reviews, tread extremely carefully.

Avoid “Too Good to Be True” Situations

When it comes to buying online, the bottom line should always be – if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. If you see an unusually cheap product from a well-known brand online, check the company’s own website for a comparison. A huge difference in the price can indicate a product is counterfeit, or worse, stolen goods. Discounts are possible, but they’re typically consistent across an industry in the shape of clearance sales.

Use a Credit Card When Possible

Credit cards should be your go-to when purchasing online thanks to the increased consumer protections it affords shoppers. When you shop using a debit card, banks are not obliged to cover the loss. However, a credit card allows shoppers the opportunity to do a “charge back” if the product never arrives, or it proves problematic in some other way.

Make Purchases on Secure Websites

Online security is a constantly evolving field, but it’s a long running fact that you shouldn’t trust websites that don’t have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. You can check this in two ways. First, a padlock symbol should appear in the address bar of your browser. Also, the address bar should start with “https” when you reach the payment stage. If it doesn’t, reconsider your decision to shop on that site.

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