6 Dependable Ways to Avoid Risky Websites When Christmas Shopping Online

Online shopping is an incredibly popular way to save time, gas and sometimes your own sanity - but is it always safe? 

Your Online Retailer of Choice

Sure, shopping online at stores like Amazon, Apple and eBay is a pretty safe bet. These are established brands with high customer satisfaction and reliable security. But what about when you search for an uncommon holiday gift like canned black ants or that R2-D2 desk vacuum, and are only able to find it on a weird little e-commerce website you've never heard of? 

secure online shopping


It's easy for a vendor - credible or not - to set up an online store. It's much harder, however, to ensure that website properly encrypts data and thwarts viruses. Just this year, for example, an estimated 15 percent of all of online stores were hit by the critical

Magento RCE flaw. With as many as 24 million e-commerce sites in the world, that ends up being a huge amount of compromised credit card info and personal data.

A website is considered "secure" if the information being transmitted is encrypted. On a secure website, the information is like a code - nearly impossible to decipher without the encryption key. However, if a hacker were to gain access to the information transmitted through a typical website, it would be easy to read.

So how do you know if you can trust that strange little e-commerce website with the tempting Christmas gift? 

Since stolen credit card info and identity theft are the last things you need to deal with this holiday season, here are a few do's and don'ts of online holiday shopping to help you rest easy: 

DO judge a website by its appearance

If a website looks sketchy, cheap or questionable it probably is. If you don't feel comfortable buying from the online vendor, don't. 

DON'T hesitate to do a little research

If you have a question about an online retailer, do a quick Google search. Include the website's name and words like "scam" or "complaints." Most times you'll find reviews or message boards where others have asked the same thing and, as a result, get your answer.

DO check the URL

The website should have an https:// at the beginning of its URL. Most URLs begin with "http://" however, an "s," in the "http://" means the website has an SSL certificate which encrypts the data it receives. A web page can't truly be secure without an SSL, so always look for "https://" - most browsers display the "https://" in green, with a lock icon. It may sound like a no-brainer, but It's amazing how many websites e-commerce websites lack an SSL. 

DO pay with a credit card

Avoid websites that ask you to wire money, use a debit card, or give out your bank info. If fraud were to occur, using a credit card prevents someone from wiping out your checking or savings account. Most credit card companies work hard to protect customers from fraud and provide coverage assistance if fraud occurs.

DON'T use an old internet browser

Using an out-of-date browser means you're not getting the most updated security functions. Whatever internet browser you have - Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox - make sure it's the most recent version.

DO use an alternative email address

Any time you submit your personal info to a new website, it's best to use a secondary email address. It's possible you will be signed up for a newsletter or have your address sold to other online vendors. Don't let a downpour of spam email messages flood your primary inbox. If there's a chance the website is sketchy, use an alternate email address.

Bottom line: when it doubt, play it safe and buy from a more trustworthy website. Follow these steps and enjoy true holiday peace-of-mind as your grab some wasabi toothpaste for that special someone.

Drew Harden
Drew Harden

CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Compass, Drew Harden has grown and guided the company from a two-person startup in 2007 to one of the Midwest's leading digital marketing companies today. He's a published author, has been cited by PR News and USA Today, and has led web projects that have been honored by organizations like Adobe and American Design Awards.