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Online shopping screen
Online shopping screen
Online shopping screen

Published October 24, 2016.

When shopping on the web, verify first.

Take a moment to recall an embarrassing secret.

Now imagine sharing it in a roomful of people — relatives, friends, and a few strangers who seem nice enough. Be sure to tell them it's a secret, so nobody will repeat it.

That might work.

Now imagine sharing your credit card number with a half-dozen online stores — big retailers, trendy boutiques, and a dog-toy company that seems nice enough. Trust that your account information is in good hands all around, because thieves can't create attractive websites, right?

That might work. But it might not. Thieves can make attractive websites. They also can send you email and snoop on your online transactions to steal your data. Before you hit "check out" on a website, check out who you're dealing with. Treat your credit card information like an embarrassing secret, providing it to trustworthy parties only — and taking steps to ensure it's not intercepted.

Five ways to keep a secret:

1. Find out who you're dealing with.

Before giving credit card information to an online store:

  • Search the site for a real phone number and address.
  • Read the retailer's privacy policy. It should tell you what information the site wants to collect and how it plans to use it.
  • Look for reviews and ratings of the site and its products. Start with the Better Business Bureau. Then search the web with the site's name and the word "review" or "complaint."
  • Don't be tricked by unearned "trust seals." Anyone could copy and paste a logo onto their site.

2. Look in your browser's address bar.

Two good signs:

  • The URL (the website's address) starts with "https." The "s" indicates a secure connection.
  • A locked padlock or unbroken key icon in the address bar indicates the site is using encryption to scramble your data, to prevent thieves from steal it.

3. Stick with secure networks and private computers.

Don't buy online using an open network (like at a coffee shop or an airport). And don't use public computers to send any financial information.

Perhaps the best reason to use credit, not debit, online is to protect yourself against a drained checking account.

4. Consider using a digital wallet.

Apple Pay, Masterpass, and other digital wallets store your payment and shipping information in one secure place. Digital wallets are built with multiple layers of security, and they send data over encrypted channels.

5. Be wary of email.

After you hit "send," your email could be intercepted or shared without your knowledge. Don't use it to send financial or private information to anyone, including retailers.

Also, be wary of unsolicited email. Reputable online retailers don't send you emails unless you signed up to get them.

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