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The student's guide to safe online shopping

October 18, 2019
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As teachers work with students to understand online access, student voice, media literacy, and digital balance, there’s one aspect of digital citizenship they often overlook: digital commerce. And yet it has significant implications for students, both personally and financially.

Buying and selling products online is now ubiquitous for people of all ages, and it's important students know the benefits and pitfalls of digital commerce. 

Mike Ribble, author of The Digital Citizenship Handbook for School Leaderssays it’s important for students to understand what digital commerce looks like today and what buying online means for all of us.

The ease of buying things online opens the door not only to safety and security issues, but to financial lessons as well.

Jenn Scheffer, tech integration specialist for Fox Hill School in Massachusetts, says educators need to be teaching kids about how to be savvy consumers. Scheffer, a former high school business and marketing teacher, says educators shouldn’t overlook smart online shopping when they teach about finance, especially since some students may be creating their own shopping sites to sell entrepreneurial products or services.

“Kids need to know that things like enrollment fees, delivery charges, special offers and rewards programs will pop up, and they can end up spending a lot more than they anticipated or buying things they didn’t know they were buying,” Scheffer says.

Ribble and Scheffer recommend these topics when teaching students about digital commerce:

Website reliability 

Show students how to check the URL to see where a link is taking them. We often assume that links are taking us where we want to go, but that’s not always the case. Does the URL say, for example, or something else? Checking the URL ensures that users aren’t being redirected to a secondary site that captures personal information.

Fraud and identity theft

These are often the biggest concerns in the discussion of digital commerce. Students need to know what to do if they think they’ve been defrauded or their identity has been stolen. Talk with students about how to report fraud and who they should tell: the primary website, website hosts like GoDaddy or Wix, a social media site, their local consumer protection agency, the state attorney general’s office or the police, depending on how the intrusion occurred.

Secure sites

Show students how to determine if a website is secure, especially if they are providing credit or debit card information. Look for URLs that include https. The “s” stands for “secure” and means the site has encryption to help protect financial information. A yellow lock icon in the lower right-hand corner ensures the same protection.

Use of public computers and Wi-Fi

Kids often think nothing of logging in to a public computer and making a purchase at a library or school. Remind them that there’s always potential for people to pull information off of public machines as well as their personal devices while accessing public Wi-Fi. It’s not a bad idea to also talk about data skimming at ATM machines.

Money management skills 

Take time to review basic money management. Students must understand that just because it’s easy to click on something doesn’t mean it’s free. You will be responsible for paying the piper at some point.

Consumer skills 

Students will also benefit from a lesson on how to be savvy consumers. Go over how to read product reviews, how to read and understand terms and conditions of purchases, and how additional fees can be added to purchases. Encourage them to leave a review if a product or service they purchase is sub-par.

Leveraging social media 

Many young people trust the reviews of online strangers more than the opinions of friends. After all, it’s easy to get caught up in Amazon reviews. Explain that they can also crowdsource information on products or services they are considering purchasing from those they know and trust on social media platforms.

Looking for additional resources on digital commerce? Here are a few sites that might help:

Being alert — being aware of your online actions and knowing how to be safe online — is one of the five competencies of the #digcitcommit initiative. Watch the video below to learn more about how you can join this movement. 

This is an updated version of an post that originally published on Oct. 23, 2015.