How to spot an unsafe online store

Spotting an illegitimate store online is a bit harder than it is in person. There are no broken windows, crooked sale signs hanging, or creepy salespeople greeting you at the door. Many of us can spot a suspicious store but there are indications you can look for to see if you’re shopping on an unsafe online store. With small web stores, big brand sites and everything in between, you need to know how to make sure your online shopping is secure.

a person looks at a phone and a credit card, and a shopping bag full of gifts

Here are a few tips on how to spot an unsafe website and two ways to protect your data when making an online purchase.

What to look for

  • A small padlock symbol to the left of the URL in the address bar. A locked padlock shows that the website’s data is secured. If the padlock is open or if there is no padlock, the website’s data isn’t secure. You shouldn’t be making any purchases from sites that do not have a locked padlock.
  • Typos or errors in the address bar. This is especially common when cyber criminals create spoofed websites of popular brands. Though they might seem similar, websites like or are not what they seem to be.
  • The store’s privacy and return policies should be clearly presented.  Legitimate stores should have these clearly displayed somewhere on their site.
  • Oddly priced items are a sign that the website is unsafe to purchase from. Those $1,500 premium headphones on sale for $150 are definitely too good to be true.
  • Blurry images and logos or typos in text anywhere on the site could be a sign that it’s fraudulent. These might just be errors on a smaller site, but they could be signs of something fishy going on.

If you encounter any of these signs or anything else that seems strange, avoid making a purchase on the website. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

How to protect your online shopping

Even if you’re looking out for the signs of unsafe online stores, it’s still a good idea to take extra steps to protect your data online when making purchases. Here are two ways to secure your data when shopping online.

  1. Never save your credit card or login information on your browser. If it asks you to remember your password, say no.
  2. Make your online purchases on your own private Wi-Fi network. Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure and are often targeted by cyber criminals. If you do have to make an online purchase away from home, use your cellular data or set up a VPN before using the public Wi-Fi.


You can buy almost anything online – which is good for your super niche memorabilia collection – but poses added risks to your cyber security. If you’re making an online purchase, take an extra moment to look for any signs that the site might be unsafe. Follow the steps above, and you’ll be checking out online in a cyber safe way.

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