The holiday shopping season is upon us. Starting with Black Friday and running through Christmas, the next month will be the busiest shopping period of the year – as it always is. Each year, online shopping has increased, due to convenience, availability, free shipping from many retailers. This year, the trend will be even more significant, considering the unprecedented circumstances that continue to surround us with the global pandemic, driving more people to do much of their shopping online. It also means cyber criminals will be even more dangerous than ever, trying to take advantage of people looking for great deals.
Be aware though, that not all deals are good ones – some are likely to be scams targeting unsuspecting shoppers during peak periods where many people lower their guard in an effort to save or get popular items. As you do your online shopping, keep a few simple rules in mind to help protect you and your personal information.
Check out sellers – It’s worth doing some research on online retailers, especially ones you don’t know and haven’t used previously, to make sure they are legitimate. Online and social media reviews can be a good source of information, since customers are typically very quick to post about poor experiences and fraudulent site. You can also look up companies at the Better Business Bureau. The BBB also has a scam tracker site where you can look up (or report) scams. It’s currently showing more than 200,000 scams. If you’re buying through P2P services, like eBay, make sure you look at the seller’s history, ratings, and feedback.
Hard to find items – Be aware of offers promoting hard to find items. Scammers often target buyers by offering deals on hard to find items. Be aware of this and be sure to do your research on retailers. Though it’s not always the case, if items are sold out at popular retailers – including the brands own e-commerce site – it’s not very likely they are available from other sources. Your best bet is to shop early to avoid missing out on these items and setting yourself up to fall for a scam.
Be cautious with links – You’re likely to get countless emails from retailers promoting sales and gift ideas. Many will be legitimate retailers you’ve purchased from in the past but, it’s almost a certainty there will also be fake ones looking to steal your personal information and money. Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites. Follow safe practices by carefully inspecting or searching any URLs before clicking on them, looking for typos or poorly written emails, and keeping an eye out for fake sites with URLs that are close to legitimate brands. Instead of clicking on email links, you may want to search for brands and get to their sites that way. Sales and specials are usually available directly from the websites as well. If not, it may be a scam.
Use credit cards – Whenever possible, pay with a credit card. Most major credit card issuers provide online purchase protection, so your liability will be limited, if any. Some banks are also extending the same protections to their debit cards, so you should check with your bank to understand your liability. Using a credit card instead of a debit care also means your primary bank account won’t be compromised if your card information is stolen.
Online payment platforms – Online payment platforms, like PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and others are another alternative available at many retailers. The benefit is you are still using your credit card, but because you’re authorizing payment through the third-party platforms, your payment information is never seen by sellers.
Use only secure sites – Always make sure you are shopping on secure sites, indicated by the small closed padlock icon next to the URL in your browser. While the icon doesn’t guarantee the legitimacy of the seller or the security of their payment system or website, it does mean you have a secure connection to the site, reducing risk of your data being intercepted.
Protect your accounts – Most retailers will allows you to make purchases as guests. If you don’t have to, don’t sign up for an account with every seller, especially those you aren’t likely to use repeatedly. For those you do have accounts with, follow your normal best practices, including strong passwords and two-factor authentication to protect accounts. 2FA typically works by sending a confirmation code to your mobile device to confirm your identity.
Security software – Hopefully, you already have a good security solution installed on your home and mobile devices. They can help protect you against cyber criminals by alerting you when you are trying to access an unsecure or potentially fraudulent site, in addition to all the other security features that help keep your information safe. As a regular course of action, you should make sure your software is always up to date.
Following these guidelines can certainly help protect you as you do your holiday shopping, but they are good steps to follow all year long. But, even if you are careful, there’s always a chance your information may be exposed or you may make a mistake. If you think something has gone wrong and you may have been a victim or fraud or exposed your information, contact your bank immediately to alert them and block your accounts.