With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just past us, and the holiday season ramping up to full swing, almost everyone is doing some online shopping. For many of us, it is the most online shopping we do all year! Online shopping can certainly be the fastest and easiest way to get all of your holiday shopping done, but it comes with some additional risks that in-store shopping does not have. Be mindful to protect your identity and bank account while browsing for the best deals this year.
The majority of online shopping is secure, but you should stick to trusted and verified websites when making online purchases. Unfamiliar, off-brand websites may be boasting the best deal for the items you would like to purchase, but they run a much higher risk of hacking, phishing schemes, or malware. There are certain tell-tale signs of a website that should not be trusted, including that it is one that you have never heard of before. Other signs that you are better to steer clear of an online purchase from an unfamiliar website include an inability or difficulty to get in touch with customer service, poor design or spelling and grammatical errors, and prices that just seem way too good to be true. You are better off sticking to known and verified online sales sites and marking alerts for price drops on the items you are shopping for. You may end up paying more when purchasing from a trusted website, but you can have peace of mind that your information is likely not being stolen and that you can contact a reliable representative from the company if you have any issues with your orders.
Another way to protect yourself with online shopping is to use a credit card rather than a debit card for your online purchases. In the event that your account information is stolen, using a credit card will prevent the hacker from being able to access your bank account and your money. Monitor your credit card statement regularly after making online purchases and contact your credit card company immediately to report any charges you do not recognize. Credit card companies have higher motivation to help identify and investigate fraudulent charges because they have a stake in the situation, whereas with your debit card, theft is directly from your own money, and fraudulent withdrawals of large sums from your checking account can put you in a bad spot financially, even if you are eventually able to recover the money.
Websites should not be asking for personal information other than what is needed to process your payment and an address to ship the items to. You should never proceed with a purchase from a website that requires information such as your social security number or birthdate. You should also be wary of sites that require extensive set-ups of accounts or make you click through emails or other websites, especially pop-ups, in order to make a purchase. These can indicate phishing schemes. Of course, many sites offer the option to create an account so that they can send you promotional emails or a coupon on your birthday, but legitimate sites should allow you to check out as a guest without creating an account, and the site should never require personal information such as a social security number, birthday, or extra information about your bank.
Even where there is little or no risk of being hacked or having your identity or financial information stolen, take some extra precautions to ensure that your online purchases are delivered to you and are not intercepted or stolen. Consider where you would like the packages to be delivered, especially if they will be delivered in the middle of the work day or when you may be out of town. While leaving packages on your front porch from time to time may be no concern for you during most of the year, the holidays are a great time for someone to snatch a few items due to the larger volume of deliveries and better chance that something expensive is contained in the box. Consider having valuable items shipped to an office address or requiring a signature for delivery. You can also try to schedule deliveries to a day when you are certain someone will be home, like a Saturday morning. Having some friendly conversations with trusted neighbors can also help you each to keep an eye on the other’s porches and stay alert to suspicious activities.
Taking a few extra precautions while doing your holiday shopping online can help you keep peace of mind over your purchasing and prevent the unlikely, but highly stressful and inconvenient, incidence of identity theft or credit card fraud.