How to Shop Online Safely
This article shares tips from the 15th episode of Dealista,our podcast that'll help you get more for less.
Black Friday officially rang in the holiday shopping season and today is Cyber Monday, the day when retailers offer big sales online. If you didn't head out before dawn to line up for Black Friday deals, perhaps you've already spent your morning back at work shopping from the comfort of your desk and checking people off your gift list.
However, with the uptake in online shopping, so does online crime. Thankfully, there are a few easy things we can do to avoid becoming a victim of it.
Make sure the computer you are using is secure. That means downloading and installing updates for your operating system, security software (firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware), and even your browser. Comodo, Avira, and Super AntiSpyware are popular, safe, and free security programs. (Make sure you're downloading the free versions of each. Sometimes they make the "free trial" button bigger than the "free version" button.) Update and secure your wireless connection.
Because you have less control over the security features, it's best to avoid using public computers and public wireless connections whenever you are shopping online or accessing personal financial information.
When shopping on sites like Ebay or Etsy, the best you can do is to check the seller's ratings and feedback. Also, always go through the formal process as directed by the site. If a seller requests that a sale be made "off site," report the seller immediately. Sometimes sellers offer a discount for doing this to bypass the seller fees they pay when a sale is recorded. It's best to be safe than sorry in these cases.
Credit cards will offer a higher level of protection than debit cards or cash. If you use a check or debit card, the amount is first taken out of your checking account, and you'd have to go through a process to get it back. But if you see an unauthorized charge on your credit card, you can dispute it before having to pay for it first.
Some credit card companies also offer temporary account numbers or prepaid cards to lessen the risk of identity theft. The temporary account numbers may be good only for a limited time, or for online shopping only with a smaller credit limit.
It may be easy to forget about an order or two, so keep track of all your purchases and check that the correct amount was charged on your credit cards. Also track their shipping status and confirm that each order is properly delivered.
To be safe, it's best to never click on a single link in an email. However, the most important ones to avoid are the ones that ask you to "confirm" your financial information. It might even use the name of the bank you actually have an account in. If that's the case, type the address of the bank site directly in your browser and contact them directly to ask if they really are looking for you.
If you have been a victim of online fraud, report to the following:
- the Attorney General's office in your state
- your county or state consumer protection agency
- the Better Business Bureau at: www.bbb.org
- the Federal Trade Commission at: www.ftc.gov/
If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.