Secure Holiday Shopping Online: Protect Your Personal Data
Many shoppers are ditching the over-crowded parking lots and long checkout lines by choosing to shop for the holidays in their pajamas at home, or on their lunch break at work via smartphone.
However, online shopping can easily darken your holiday spirit if your credit card information gets in the hands of a scammer. Fake companies and identity thieves love the holidays because of the increase of people browsing and shopping online for gifts. In fact, online shopping sales in 2017 hit a record at $108.2 billion dollars. This figure is projected to increase this holiday season by at least 14.8 percent.
Secure holiday shopping online is an absolute must, which is why we have compiled useful tips and recommendations to reduce your risk of encountering a virtual Grinch this Christmas season!
Online Scams to Watch Out For This Holiday Season
Shopping Sites That Don’t Really Exist
Fake shopping sites tend to use clickbait phrases such as “discount gifts”. They also pitch enticing offers that appear too good to be true, which in many cases are just that. Instead of sending you the goods you paid for, they now have your payment information to do with as they please. Avoid these bogus sites by checking the URL for misspelled retailer names and words like “deals” or “sales” as part of the URL. It is also a red flag if you spot “HTTP” instead of the more secure “HTTPS” format. Stay away from sites that do not list phone numbers or street addresses but a P.O. Box instead. One of the most important factors when it comes to secure holiday shopping online is payment information. Stay away from sites that require payment by wire transfer or prepaid debit cards.
Your inbox may already be overflowing with “free” merchandise messages, or you may have noticed similar posts on social media. Although the word free is tempting and brings out the curiousness in most of us, clicking on a link for details can be a ploy to install malware on your device. Do not fall for the sneaky reasoning behind the requirement of your credit card information to cover shipping costs. If you are really interested in the deal, check the manufacturer’s website or call the toll-free number listed on their website for more information. If there is no sign of this freebie on the site and their customer service representative does not have knowledge of it, assume scammers are waiting for you to take the bait.
The holiday season is indeed the season of giving. This time of the year brings out the best in many of us, making it more likely to want to give to the less fortunate or towards causes we feel strongly about. The tips for secure holiday shopping online also apply to charitable donations. Scammers take advantage of the good in people by creating bogus charities in the hopes of tricking those who are trying to bring comfort and joy to others. If you have not previously donated to a particular non-profit organization or cause, ignore all email solicitations. Pay attention to the names of charities that sound like well-known charities. For example, a fake charity may replace words like “National” for “American” in well-known names.
It’s normal during the holiday season to receive increased calls from people asking for donations. Do not provide your payment information over the phone unless you dialed the phone number to that specific charity. It is recommended that you take the time to research an organization you wish to donate to and verify their legitimacy at Charity Navigator or Give.org before donating.
Gift Card Cons
It is never a good idea to purchase a gift card from someone other than the store issuing it or the retailer’s website. Online auctions for gift cards are risky because the person selling it may have tampered with the card. For example, they have access to the numbers on the card; which means they can cash in the card after monitoring and confirming activation by simply calling the issuer’s toll-free number.
We have all seen the posts on social media promising a gift card in exchange for your time to fill out a survey. You may also receive these unexpected offers to your email inbox or through a text message on your cell phone. Be very cautious with these survey requests as the links that are supposed to lead you to the survey often hide malware. Another risk to consider is future identity theft after you provide the personal or financial information that is required as a supposed reward deposit. Even something as simple as providing an email address may get you on a scammer’s shared list for future swindles.
Legitimate company surveys will typically lead back to the company website. You can spot a scammer’s survey by hovering your computer mouse over the URL. You should see the company’s name before the “.com” for an indication that it is truly from a legitimate vendor.
Tips to avoid online scams this Holiday Season
Your favorite holiday can quickly turn into a dreaded one if you become a victim of an online scam. Shop smart this holiday season by following these helpful tips to ensure secure holiday shopping online.
Shop on familiar websites
To avoid risking your credit card information getting into the wrong hands, only shop from online businesses that you are familiar with and trust.
Stay away from Public Wi-Fi
The convenience of shopping online with our smartphones saves time while we are waiting in line at the grocery store or having coffee at a local shop. However, public wi-fi is not a form of secure holiday shopping online because Wi-Fi networks use public airways that a tech savvy scammer can intercept. This makes it risky to enter login or credit card information while connected to public Wi-Fi.
Strong passwords are a must
Many online retailers now have the option of creating an account for you to save your credit card information. In addition, these sites will ask for your address to make future online transactions easier. This is a great convenience until someone gets the password to your account, changes the shipping address and charges it to your payment method. To avoid this, create a strong password that does not contain your personal information such as your pet’s name.
Verify website security
Spotting a secure website is not as difficult as it seems and is essential for secure holiday shopping online. A webpage has privacy protection installed if there is a small lock icon in the corner of your URL fields which will turn green and say “secure” depending on the browser. Also, if you do not see an “s” after “HTTP”, that webpage is not secure.
Monitor your statements
Make it a habit to check your bank and credit card statements for fraudulent charges once a week, not just during the holiday season. If you are busy and have the tendency to forget to do so, set up account alerts that will send you a text message or an email after a transaction.
Although adding something to your to-do list during the holiday season may sound like a hassle, it is a good idea to stay organized and add to your efforts of secure holiday shopping online. After any holiday purchases, keep the receipt, online order confirmation number and tracking number stored in a designated place that you can easily access if you have a problem with the order.
If you don’t receive your goods, take action
The previous tip will come in handy if you do not receive the items you purchased. Call the company and provide them with your order confirmation number. If you cannot get a hold of anybody because the website you ordered from is fake, your credit card company may be able to help you at this point.
Report the scammer
If you realize you are the victim of a scam, immediately notify your credit card company and close your account. The next step is to file a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission who can also help you with a recovery plan.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
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- Written by Adriana Torres