Protecting your purchase and identity when online shopping

11 Ways to Protect Your Online Purchase

by Joanne Guidoccio

Online shopping is quick, easy, and convenient. You can shop in your pajamas at all hours of the day and night without worrying about parking, over-crowded malls, and long lines at the checkout, but all this convenience can come at a price. Internet sales scams are among the fastest category of consumer complaints.

Consider the following tips:

  • Whenever possible, buy from sites you know. If you are buying from an unfamiliar site, research it very carefully before placing an order. Read the terms and conditions on the site. Is the information detailed and complete enough for you to understand the terms of sale?
  • Does the site use encryption technology that scrambles sensitive information such as your credit card number? If the website address begins with https://, the "s" indicates a secure site. Alternatively, the merchant will indicate the site is safe by an icon (lock or key) somewhere on the outer edge of the browser window. The lock should be locked and the key unbroken.
  • Use a credit card (not a debit card or check) to make online purchases. If something goes wrong with the transaction, you can have the charges reversed. You can also stop payment if you are dissatisfied with the item purchased. A debit card does not offer this protection, and a personal check could be an open invitation to identity theft since it contains your bank account number and home address.
  • Use different passwords for different websites.
  • Keep all receipts. Whenever you complete an online purchase, print and save the confirmation page.
  • Use your home internet, not free Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop.
  • Provide only the basic information that is marked with an asterisk. Do not volunteer your Social Security Number, date of birth, or other personal information.
  • Do not buy from any online merchants who try to rush you into a decision or ask for credit card information before allowing you to enter the site.
  • Be wary of vendors who use "browser traps." Often, these traps take over a site and disable the "back" button on your browser. Other traps will open new windows each time you try to close one. Do not make a purchase to get out of the trap.
  • When buying tickets and family passes to amusement parks, tourist attractions and other events, check for any expiration dates. Many of those special deals apply only to a short window of time.
  • Be careful when dealing with online vendors outside the United States. Since our consumer protection laws and regulations do not apply to them, it may be difficult to resolve potential conflicts. When calculating the final price, remember to factor in shipping and handling, taxes, duty and currency conversion. The charge on your credit card will likely be different from the quoted price. Is it still a bargain?

Updated December 2013

For 31 years, Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and career education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario. Her articles, book reviews, and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, and online. She has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma. Visit her website at

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