Online shopping is the peak of convenience during the holiday season. It’s no wonder that there are more than 230 million online shoppers in the U.S. And as inflationary pressure continues, popular retailers are offering even more incentives to shop early and online.
But bargain hunters won’t be the only people looking to score. Online scammers are notoriously active during the holidays, when consumers are distracted and less likely to notice suspicious activity.
If you plan to do any online shopping for the holidays, this brief review of best practices can help keep you and your personal information safe.
- Shop from reputable online sources. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.Some scammers pretend to be legitimate online sellers with fake websites or create fake ads on real sites. If you don’t know a product or the company that sells it, check it out before you buy. Search online for the product or company name, plus “complaint” or “scam” to see what other people are saying. Another good way to check on a seller is to confirm it has a real physical address and phone number, which you can use if you have questions or problems.
- Don’t shop on public Wi-Fi. If you ever do use public Wi-Fi, protect yourself with a VPN (virtual private network). A VPN creates an encrypted channel between your computer and the server. Cybercriminals lurking nearby won’t be able to see what you’re doing or intercept your personal information while you shop. A VPN is the only way to safely shop online in public spaces like airports, cafes, and libraries.
- Beware of amazing deals on social media. Reports of lost money from social media scams have more than tripled in the past year, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
- Use strong passwords. Passwords provide essential protection from financial fraud and identity theft. Given that a password is often the only thing standing between your personal and financial data and a cybercriminal, it is in your best interest to create unique, complex passwords for each online account. If this is unmanageable, look into a password manager to help you generate and store all your passwords.
- Check site security before you buy. A secure website should begin with “https” rather than “http” in the URL. The “s” in “https” stands for secure, which indicates that the site is using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate. This lets you know all your communication and data is encrypted as it passes from your browser to the website’s server. Fortunately, just look for a lock icon in the left of your browser’s URL bar.
- Always pay with a credit card, not debit. Once someone has your debit card information, they can easily drain the cash from your accounts—cash you may need to pay bills. Credit cards offer stronger fraud protections than debit cards. You can dispute charges more easily and may even reap card-specific rewards.
- Report scammers right away. If you’re the victim of an online scam, file a report with local law enforcement as well as the Federal Trade Commission as soon as possible. These reports are used for investigative and intelligence purposes. Rapid reporting can also help support the recovery of lost funds.
Follow these simple tips to shop online with confidence this holiday season and be sure to share this information with family and friends!