How to Shop Safely Online during COVID-19

As part of precautions to protect your health during COVID-19, you might find yourself shopping online for your essentials now more than ever. Make safer online purchases by following these tips:

Shop with Your Credit Card, Not Your Debit Card

Consumers have more legal protections against fraudulent charges and billing errors with credit cards and can also avoid having to wait for stolen funds from checking accounts to be returned.

  1. Use a credit card if you can for payment processors, such as PayPal or Apple Pay. Again, you have more legal protections with a credit card.
  2. Check your financial statements regularly for unauthorized charges. You can sign up to receive alerts through text, email, or an app when charges are made to your card.
  3. Freeze your credit. You can also prevent ID thieves from opening a credit card in your name by getting free credit freezes
Use Strong, Unique Passwords
  1. Vary your Passwords: Make sure to use a different password for each of your online accounts, including any shopping accounts. To create a strong password, try using a phrase you’ll remember and replacing some of the letters with numbers and special characters. 
  2. Use a Password Manager: Consider using a password manager that will generate strong passwords for each of your accounts and keep track of them for you. This will make it harder for a hacker to guess your password or access more of your accounts if one of them is compromised in a data breach.
Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

For added security, turn on two-factor authentication for your online accounts that offer it. Two-factor authentication requires a second form of ID, in addition to your password, to access your account. That might be in the form of a code or verification prompt that is sent to your phone or other device. 

  1. Set computer, smartphone, and tablet passwords. Use six digits instead of four for your smartphone password. 
  2. Using a mobile authentication app or physical security key appears to provide more security. Although choosing to receive a code by text still offers you two-factor protection.
Shop on Secure Connections

Make sure the site you’re shopping on has a secure connection that encrypts information you send it by looking for “https” (not “http”) or a lock icon in the url bar. The “s” stands for “secure.” (However, be aware that fraudulent sites can also appear to be secure.) 

  1. The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation provides the HTTPS Everywhere extension for your web browser, which will automatically use a secure “https” connection whenever it’s available for a website you’re visiting. 
  2. Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will keep your Internet connections more private and secure after researching your options. Otherwise, at least follow the Federal Trade Commission’s steps to secure your Wi-Fi & router
Beware of Price Gouging
  1. Shop Around and Avoid Extreme Prices: Watch out for excessively priced safety supplies, such as hand sanitizer.
  2. Consider Shopping Local: Local and small businesses might have harder to find supplies in stock on their websites and faster delivery times.
Look Out for Scams
  1. Beware of Phishing Scams: Avoid clicking on links or attachments from unsolicited emails and texts even if they appear to be from companies, organizations, or people you know. Contact the sender using a website or phone number you know is legitimate. 
  2. Don’t provide personal or financial information by email, text, or unsolicited call.
  3. Stay away from claims of coronavirus home test kits or vaccines. No products have currently been proven to prevent or treat the virus. 
  4. Report coronavirus-related scams and price gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline  at 1-866-720-5721 or e-mail at disaster@leo.gov. You can also submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Control your Privacy

Many businesses share your activity on their websites or apps with other companies, such as Facebook or Google. Many websites also partner with third parties, such as advertisers and analytics companies, that attach “cookies” to your browser to track you across the Internet. 

Explore your options for controlling your privacy while shopping online, including:

  • Deleting cookies and changing your cookies settings on your browsers

  • Installing tracking blockers for your browsers

  • Choosing a browser for its privacy features

  • Adjusting ad tracking and ad identifier settings on your mobile device

  • Checking the privacy settings on your mobile device to see what access your apps have

  • Managing your ad preferences and off-Facebook activity from your Facebook privacy shortcuts page.

  • Controlling your ad settings, as well as the web & app activity that is saved to your Google account from your data & personalization page.