How to Stay Safe When Shopping Online

Posted on Nov 24, 2022 by Kristin Hassel

We’ve all been there, especially during the holidays. You see a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal, it’s from a retailer you’ve not seen before, and it seems too good to be true. Spoiler alert, it probably is. You might want to think twice before clicking on a random advertisement. Why? It’s probably a scam and you’ll never receive the item. Worse yet, your financial and personal information is now in their hands. 

Shockingly, over 50% of Black Friday emails sent between October and November 2022 were detected as scams. It’s not getting any better either. Americans are 59% more afraid of online shopping fraud than they were last year, and many see being scammed as an unavoidable consequence of online shopping

Don’t accept online scams as an everyday side effect of cyber shopping. You can get amazing online deals without putting your personal and financial information at risk. We’ll show you how a few simple steps can make your online shopping experience safer

What Are the Risks of Shopping Online?

Not using safe online shopping habits presents a risk to your personal and financial information, device, and network. Let’s check out some of the most costly online shopping risks. 

  • Financial/credit card fraud — Credit card fraud alone cost Americans $38 million during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Scam sites, deceptive advertising, and cybercriminals increase the potential for duplicate transactions and fraudulent purchases while shopping from home.

  • Non-payment/non-delivery — Non-payment/non-delivery scams cost Americans over $337 million in 2021. The temptation to click on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter advertisements is real, but many of these sites are scams. You either don’t receive the item or it isn’t anything like the description or image if you do. 

  • Phishing emails — Around 90% of all data breaches in 2022 are due to spear phishing emails. These emails attempt to get you to reveal private personal information, and often result in spamming your device with malware, trackers, ransomware, or other harmful software. 

  • Identity theft — Online identity theft is a major concern for online shoppers, with around 33% of all Americans experiencing it at some point. Giving your personal and financial information to an untrustworthy retailer can result in them using your data to open fraudulent accounts, make unauthorized purchases, and more.

5 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

The internet is filled with scam advertisements and shops. Being scammed is disappointing and humiliating, but the bigger issue is the amount of information you give scam retailers. They get access to your name, address, financial information, and email. At the bare minimum, you should get ready for an influx of phishing scams disguised as special offers on Black Friday. 

Luckily, you can avoid scam advertisers and retailers by following a few basic rules while shopping online.

1. Buy Directly from Retailers

Avoid scammers by purchasing directly from retailers. If a retailer, like Amazon, offers several different stores, make sure you pay attention to complaints and reviews. Buying directly through a retailer doesn’t make a purchase 100% safe, so you need to follow a few basic guidelines to keep your information safe.

    ✅ Use a retailer’s designated app — Don’t follow links from social media or other sites to purchase items. Use the retailer’s designated app when shopping on a mobile device or its website via PC. If you see something you like, take a couple of seconds to jot down the manufacturer and item name, even if the link leads to a legitimate site like Amazon.

    Then look it up on the official retailer site or mobile app and make your purchase. Additionally, only purchase gift cards from authorized retailers or the retailer itself, to ensure you get a valid card. Being diligent helps you avoid trackers and tons of personalized ads from web browsers and social media.
    ✅ Look for the lock — A lock icon to the left of a website URL in the address bar means it uses secure socket layer (SSL). Another easy way to tell if a retailer uses SSL is if the URL begins with HTTPS. When a website uses SSL to encrypt online communications, it keeps any sensitive information entered on the site private. Try to avoid using any retailers who don’t use SSL to protect your personal and financial information.

    ⛔ Don’t ignore security prompts — If you have a VPN, antivirus software, firewall, or other security and privacy software installed, don’t ignore security prompts. They usually pop up because a site or app is buggy or considered unsafe. You can always find the same item somewhere else, without potentially putting your personal information at risk.

    ✅ Stick with familiar retailers — When in doubt, stick to retailers you know and trust, whether local or mainstream. Amazon, Etsy, Wayfair, Walmart, and other major retailers all provide amazing deals for the holidays or everyday shopping, and are far safer than unknown retailers.

    ✅ Check out retailers you’re unsure of — Not every unknown retailer or new shopping app is scammy. It’s perfectly fine to use one if you do your due diligence first. Pay attention to comments and complaints, do research on the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and read reviews for retailers online. If more people are complaining about a retailer than promoting it, it’s a good indicator to stay away.

2. Use Digital Payment Methods

Check out using ApplePay, Google Pay, PayPal, or cryptocurrency when available. Digital payment methods provide added privacy and protection. You won’t need to continually enter your credit card or banking information on multiple sites. Just choose your payment method (log in if needed) and check out.

3. Secure Your Devices & Network

One of the best things you can do to protect yourself against cyber threats is to secure your network and devices. These basic tips and tools can help you get on the right track.

    ✅ Use a VPN — Nothing can give you complete anonymity online, but a VPN can increase your level of anonymity. PIA provides strong encryption to make your traffic unreadable. We also use secure protocols like WireGuard® or OpenVPN for safer connections to and from the VPN server.

    Ensure the VPN you choose has a strict no-logs policy to prevent collecting, storing, sharing, or selling your data. This way your personal data, location, and browsing habits remain private. A kill switch is also an excellent feature, as it helps prevent data and location leaks if you’re suddenly disconnected from the VPN or lose your internet connection. At PIA, we offer both.
    ✅ Install antivirus software — Even if you have a VPN installed, you still need antivirus protection. PIA has an antivirus add-on, but not every VPN does. It isn’t standard practice and most VPNs can’t protect you against viruses. Antivirus is necessary because it protects your software and hardware from virus attacks that can cripple your network and destroy your devices.
    ✅ Strengthen the 3 P’s — Create strong passwords, PINs, and patterns for all sensitive hardware and frequently used devices, including your router. Avoid using sequential numbers (e.g., 1234, 7654, 0000) or easily accessible information like your birth year or graduation year. Device patterns must also be unique. Stay away from simplistic lines and shapes (e.g., L-shape, straight lines in any direction, or a square).
There are tons of good & free password generators out there, like the one from F-Secure.
    When choosing passwords, use a combination of lower and uppercase letters, numbers, and punctuation or symbols. Never use your name or anything easily obtainable from your social media, like nicknames people call you or your pets’ names.
    ✅ Use two-factor authentication — Using two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as multi-factor authentication (MFA), is an excellent way to make sure every purchase is made by you. 2FA options include SMS (text), PIN, push notifications, and one-time passwords (OTP). Some retail apps, email providers, and mobile devices give you the option to use 2FA. GooglePay, PayPal, or ApplePay can also prompt you to enter a password or PIN anytime a purchase or account access is attempted.
    ✅ Personalize and privatize your network — Name your network, make it private, and create a strong password for your router. Private networks with passwords are more difficult for cybercriminals to manipulate. It’s best to shop in the safety of your home using your private network.

    Avoid using public Wi-Fi to shop whenever possible and, if you really need to, make sure you use a VPN when you connect. A VPN masks your traffic with encryption and provides a secure connection when you’re using public Wi-Fi or unsecured networks.
    ✅ Keep your firmware and software updated — Install security updates for mobile and desktop as soon as it becomes available, and download firmware updates to your router for optimum functionality. These updates fix existing issues, keep hardware running smoothly, or strengthen your security. Regularly installing updates helps prevent anyone from exploiting weaknesses in your network and devices.

4. Trust Your Instincts

When something doesn’t add up, don’t push your doubts aside — investigate. Deals seeming too good to be true usually are. Websites and services asking for information you don’t really need to provide are usually a scam. 

Most retailers and services don’t need your social security number or birthdate to sell you something. Of course, exceptions exist for sites needing to verify your age, such as an adult-only website.

5. Raise the Alarm

If you find a scam site or have an unfortunate experience with a seller or retailer, raise the alarm. Leave a review or comment and report the fraudulent site or service to the authorities. You can make a difference to someone else who may not be as knowledgeable about safe online shopping as you are.

Does PIA Make Online Shopping Safer?

PIA can help protect you while shopping online.

Absolutely. PIA provides all the tools you need to protect your online traffic. 

You can pick your encryption level. Use our default 128-bit AES encryption for everyday tasks and faster streaming, or choose military-grade 256-bit AES encryption for added security to mask your traffic. Both forms of encryption are currently unhackable, so even if a cybercriminal could intercept your information, it’s unreadable

PIA also comes with an all-in-one blocker (MACE) to block annoying ads and other harmful software at the DNS level before it reaches your device. That means you can shop online without being followed. You can also choose add-ons like our antivirus protection, to remove malware and stop viruses without tracking and logging. 

Where you shop online, what you browse for, and what services you use are your business. PIA never collects your usage data. Our No Logs policy is court-tested — we never have any data to hand over on request. Since it’s the season, we also have an excellent Black Friday VPN offer and you get a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Stay Safe Online Year-Round

Protecting yourself online is your responsibility. Fortunately, you can have a safer online shopping experience by following a few simple steps. Any time of the year is an excellent time to be mindful of your privacy and security while shopping online. 

PIA can help you shop more securely all year – use your subscription on as many devices as you want. You can safeguard your personal and financial information from all your most used devices for online shopping. We include antivirus, an all-in-one blocker (MACE), and you can use military-grade 256-bit AES encryption for added security. 


Is Online Shopping safe?

Yes. When you take proper precautions, online shopping is just as safe as going to a physical store. Be careful about where you shop. Choose the appropriate protection for your data and online shopping devices, including a VPN and antivirus software. Above all, never give your sensitive information to sites you’re wary of, and if something seems off don’t ignore the feeling.

PIA provides a VPN, an antivirus add-on, and a blocker in one app. You can protect your privacy, avoid viruses, and block intrusive trackers without installing three different forms of software. 

How can you tell if an online store isn’t safe?

You may receive prompts from your VPN, antivirus, or firewall, alerting you a site may be unsafe and asking if you want to continue despite the warning. You can also look to the left of your URL on the address bar for the lock icon – if you don’t see one, the site doesn’t use SSL. Sites not using SSL don’t offer data encryption.

PIA uses SSL protocol to offer secure browsing and checkout. The VPN also offers WireGuard® and OpenVPN, two of the strongest secure open-source protocols available.

What can you do to stay safe when you shop online?

It’s important to remain vigilant – no one can protect your data as you can. Make sure you shop with trusted retailers and always use security software, including VPNs. VPNs protect and send your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. This keeps your internet activity safe, and stops any unwanted eyes from seeing what you’re up to. 

Is it safer to use a credit or debit card?

Both are safe, but using a digital payment method like GooglePay or PayPal provides added privacy when shopping online. Shop directly from a retailer’s app or site, and get PIA to increase your security while using your credit or debit card online. 

Does PIA protect you when you shop online?

Yes. Browse for interesting products privately with a new IP address from any of the 80+ countries in our server network. 

PIA secures your online connection and prevents sites from offloading malware and trackers to your devices. The VPN includes a Kill Switch to prevent data and location leaks. In addition, PIA offers two unhackable forms of AES encryption to safeguard your traffic.