Cautious Carl’s Guide to Safe Holiday Online Shopping

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Four rules to for safe holiday online shopping

Happy Thanksgiving. It’s a beautiful holiday. A day of food. Of football. Of arguments with family about the estate tax and which one of our dead relatives is in hell. [Editor’s Note: Carl?] It’s also a time of much shopping. There’s Black Friday, there’s Cyber Monday. And nothing says the holidays at Carl’s house like some safe holiday online shopping.

Now, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but Carl is a master gift giver. I’ve mastered every aspect of the gift, from shopping for it, to presenting it, to acting surprised by what I’ve received in return, and then re-gifting that. With me its an art.

And this holiday season, you too can be a super shopper just like Carl. As you’re unfastening your pants following a cacophony of turkey and stuffing and gravy, before hopping on to the series of tubes that we call the world wide web, just remember to follow Cautious Carl’s Safe Holiday Online Shopping rules and you’ll be a master gift giver in no time—just like me!

Carl’s Safe Holiday Online Shopping Rule #1: Stay Home

That’s right. Stay right there on your couch. Look, I’m not going to BS you. I hate crowds of people. I have multiple phobias that overlap on crowds and it’s just a nightmare waiting to happen. And really, even though there are some great deals at brick and mortar stores, do you really feel like leaving at 6PM on Thanksgiving day to go pitch a tent outside of Best Buy and risk getting trampled over a $200 flat screen TV? Trampling sounds like a pretty terrible way to go. It’s pretty low on my list. Right in between being catapaulted into the grand canyon and death by ice cream (don’t ask).

Anyway, regardless of what you do on Black Friday – stay in or go out – always do your online shopping from home. It may be tempting to log on to the internet at the coffee shop or in the airport, but WiFi is notoriously unsecure, even more so in light of the recent KRACK exploits. Granted, you could set up a VPN, but I’d be willing to wager that anyone who’s coming to Carl for advice on Safe Holiday Online Shopping probably doesn’t know a VPN from a VCR. Just avoid the risk and shop from the comfort of your couch.

Carl’s Safe Holiday Online Shopping Rule #2: Check the URL

Always check the URL. You can get a lot of information just from looking at the address of the page you’re on. This is doubly important if you’re following links, because the text of the link doesn’t necessarily tell you where you’re being pointed. So first of all, check the domain. Is it the domain you expected? If it’s not, you’re about to get duped. Run.

Second, if the domain checks out, check the protocol. There are two: HTTP and HTTPS. Remember, HTTP is outmoded. It lacks encryption. Anyone that wants to, can eavesdrop on your connection and steal any information being transmitted. And remember, you’re shopping, so what’s being transmitted is personal and financial information about you. That’s not good. So make sure the websites you’re visiting are served over HTTPS.

Carl’s Safe Holiday Online Shopping Rule #3: Click the Padlock

Next to the URL in the address bar should be a padlock icon. Remember, if there’s no padlock you’re on an HTTP website and your connection isn’t secure. So there should be a padlock. Now click on it and view the certificate details. What you’re looking at is this website’s SSL certificate. In addition to encrypting, SSL certificates contain verified information about the entity that operates the website. Depending on the level of validation you’ll either see verified business information, or just a single line about who the site is registered to.

If you see business information, it’s OK to take that at face. It’s been verified by a trusted third party. However, if it’s not there, take pause. That doesn’t mean you should automatically distrust the site, but most legitimate companies take steps to give you as much information as possible. They want your trust. It’d be weird for them not to do everything in their power to earn it.

Oh, and one last thing, if you see the company’s name in the address bar there’s no need to click the padlock. You’re where you should be.

Carl’s Safe Holiday Online Shopping Rule #4: Look for Site Seals

A Site Seal is a small logo that a website can place on its home- or checkout page that says it’s been vetted by a trusted third party. Most of them can be clicked on and display real-time information about the company as well as a timestamp.

These are there for a reason. Almost any company that accepts payment should have one as a result of Payment Card Industry requirements. And legitimate websites don’t hide these, either. They’re right in the footer or next to the submit button on the checkout page.

Look for these, if you don’t see them. That’s a sign.

Safe Holiday Online Shopping is easy, just follow my rules

That’s right, as long as you follow these four rules you should have no problems with safe holiday online shopping. And here’s a final tip for the road: use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no point taking unnecessary risks that could cost you big time on the very small chance that you actually did find a free iPhone or Playstation.

Just use common sense. Famous last words.

Stay cautious, my friends.