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Online shopping can be a convenient way to maintain essential supplies, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your safety.

With the onset of stay at home policies, consumers are turning to online shopping more than ever. There are still some things to watch out for before you click “checkout.” Here are ways to help stay safe and reduce risks when shopping online.

Fake E-commerce Sites

When tackling your shopping list, every dollar saved makes a difference — so it’s understandable you’re looking for deals and discounts. But fake e-commerce sites — with promises of low, low prices — are increasingly common. These copycat sites are set up with the sole intention of stealing your money and information, and prey on rushed, budget-strapped shoppers who get lured by emails, text messages and social media ads promising big discounts or hard-to-find merchandise.

Hidden Fees

One of the benefits of shopping online is that you don’t have to deal with other customers, checkout lines or pushy salespeople. So when it comes to checking out and entering your payment details, don’t be too hasty — take a few moments to carefully review your order. Many sites don’t fully disclose all the fees that may come with purchasing an item — from processing to shipping to customs fees — until late in the checkout process.

Fake Online Reviews

More and more people rely on reviews when deciding whether or not to purchase an item. In fact, 85 per cent of people trust online reviews just as much as they trust their friends or family when considering a product or service.* Scammers have caught on to this, and post false reviews for the merchandise they’re selling. Be wary of reviews written for the singular purpose of drumming up positive buzz.

Unencrypted Sites

Even if you’re shopping from a legitimate retailer, if their website doesn’t have the proper level of encryption, your information could be left open for anyone to intercept. A site with a trusted security certificate and a secure connection will have a “https://” at the beginning of the URL, as well as a padlock or a key on the far left side of the address bar. Anything sent over a non-https connection is in plain text — including your password or payment card information — which makes it easier for hackers to snoop or steal your data.

Shady Online Retailers

Different than fake sites, these sites will in fact sell you and ship you the merchandise you order — but what arrives in the mail could look vastly different than the picture you saw online, be of very poor quality, counterfeit, or even harmful. Keep in mind, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!

How to Protect Yourself

Here are a few easy steps to help keep your money and information safe:

When clicking a link in an email or ad to get to a website, look closely at the site to make sure it’s legit. Hover over the URL to check that it’s familiar and spelled correctly, and scan the site for spelling mistakes or poor grammar.

If online reviews seem especially and unequivocally positive, do some additional research to make sure you’re getting the full story on the product you’re buying. Check out the total number of reviews too. That can give you a hint regarding how long they’ve been in business.

Don’t rush the checkout process. Hidden charges tend to pop up at the last moment — review your entire order before submitting payment.

Look for security symbols that identify the site as secure — such as https://, a padlock, or a key in the address bar.

If things seem a bit fishy, call the customer service line. If no one answers it — or you can’t find a number in the first place — find another site for your shopping.

*The 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey, Bright Local