Keep Your Credit Card Safe While Shopping Online
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I was at Home Depot at 6:07 a.m. on Black Friday. I needed new Christmas décor, and Home Depot had exactly what I wanted at low prices.
So I got up early, thinking that if I didn’t get there by 6:15 a.m., the stuff I wanted would be long gone. You can imagine how surprised I was when I got there and the store was fairly empty. The employees practically greeted me at the door and offered me coffee and donuts.
Well, of course I said yes to the coffee and donuts. I had the sales flyer with me, so I pointed to what I wanted and the employees collected it all for me in a cart. I was back at my car at precisely 6:17 a.m., happy and on an exquisite sugar high.
I went from Home Depot to Target and had a similar experience, but without the donuts (get with the program, Target!). It was clear to me that folks had decided to shop online. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the recent numbers from comScore, a company that analyzes the digital world.
Their research showed that consumers have already spent $10.1 billion online, which is a 16% increase over last year. They predict, for the entire season, that consumers will spend $43.4 billion online, which is up 17% from last year.
But enough with boring stats. The fact is, if you shop online, you need to protect yourself. It might be the season of holiday cheer, but it’s also the season of credit card scams.
Here are some things you should keep in mind while clicking your way through the holidays. (See also: The 50 Best Deals and Coupon Sites)
Check the URL
Make sure you see "https" instead of just "http" in the web address. The "s" means it’s a secure site.
Now, according to the FTC, having the “s” isn’t a fool-proof method for identifying a fake website because some scammers try to create a fake “s". Good grief! But at least checking for an “s” is a step you can take to make sure you don’t enter delicate information onto a site without the “s” in the address.
Use a Credit Card
Don’t use a debit card for online shopping. A debit card is linked to your bank account, and if the website gets hacked, the thief will have access to your cash.
Sure, you can probably get most of the cash back over time, but you don’t need such trauma during the holidays. With a credit card, you have much better consumer protections, plus your cash accounts aren’t in jeopardy.
Don’t Fall for Phishing
If you get an email asking you to send your credit card account number and password, don’t take the bait (sorry, I had to get in at least one lousy pun related to fishing).
The email might say you need to update or validate your account due to a variety of issues, including suspected fraud. The email might even look like it came from your bank. No legitimate company will ever ask for this type of sensitive financial information via email.
You have to be alert because scammers get more sophisticated all the time. I got an email that appeared to come from my daughter, who is at college. There was a link in the email, and I caught myself just in time. The scammer was clever to know that I might open the link quickly since it came from my kid. That was a close one!
Check Your Accounts Online for Fraud
This an oldie, but a goodie. I know you’re tired of hearing it, but think about how often you use your credit card at a restaurant and your card leaves your sight. Even if you’re shopping mostly online on a secure, well-known site, you’re still exposed in other areas of your life. And what if the reputable, well-known site gets hacked? It happens.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
It might be tempting to kick back with a latte in your favorite coffee shop while making purchases online, but it’s not a good idea. Hackers are capable of breaking into Wi-Fi connections at hot spots. Better to get the latte to go and shop at home than take the risk.
Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers
These are also sometimes referred to as “disposable” or “one-time use” numbers. Some issuers offer this service and it allows you to use a temporary number that's tied to your actual credit card account. When you buy an item, you use the temporary number assigned to your account.
So if the site you shopped on gets hacked, the thief can't access your real number. They get a bogus one. This keeps your real account number safe. Now, the details for this service vary by issuer. Visa offers this service, and they call it “Verified by Visa.”
It might sound a little tricky to use virtual numbers, but trust me — the steps are usually pretty simple, and best of all, it’s free.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.