Free shipping offers for online purchases makes even easier. All of us are running around enough as it is during the holiday season, so we go online to take the pressure off. The deals seem to be out there, it’s easy to comparison shop and the occasionally crazy online bargains make it seem too good to be true…
…until you find that great deal was really a scam.
Con artists — like the Grinch — are always active around the holidays. People have their wallets out, are looking for bargains, and often feel like doing some good by donating to a worthy cause or two. Back in Grandpa’s day, the focus of the con was on separating the mark (victim) from their money. Many of today’s rip-offs are based on tried-and-true scamming techniques — burying the real cost of a product in the fine print, masquerading as a charity, promising a discount if you’ll just “take a few minutes to fill out our short survey” – with a new twist. Online scams generally target the identity, bank account and credit card information of the unsuspecting web user. After all, with the right kind of information, the mark’s money could be in the scammer’s possession long before the victim knows anything was compromised. (Today’s scams are about data, not dollars.)
To help you keep your holiday shopping on the Internet secure, follow these simple rules:
- Research “too good to be true” sites or offers.
Do some research on the company making that “too-good-to-be-true” offer.Run a Google search on the company. (Snopes.com is a great resource for this). Try to find their main website, and take a spin through it. Give them a call, even. If anything about it seems wrong or indirect, it would be best to take your business elsewhere.
- Only make purchases from secure websites.
Look at the URL of the page you are on before you put in your payment information. Secure site URLs will begin with “https” (or on some occasions “shttp”). Additionally, some browsers will display a closed padlock in the URL bar of secure sites. Be sure the site is secure before you start the purchase.
- Use strong passwords on banking and financial online accounts.
For tips on constructing a secure password, take a look at this Tech Tip on our main website.
- Whenever possible, use a credit card rather than a debit card.
If a scammer gains access to your account, it will be much easier to reverse fraudulent charges to a credit card. Restoring money to your back account that was stolen by someone using your debit card is much more difficult, and until they reverse the charges you are left holding the bag.
- Only shop using your own computer or smartphone.
Many browsers automatically hold onto information you enter into purchase form boxes – exactly the kind of information that would cost you if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Be sure you click on the sign out or log off button of any merchant’s site after your make your purchase.
- Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi networks.
Although one of the advantages of online shopping is being able to do it at your corner coffee shop, it is never a good idea to use a public network to shop or bank. Not only are you susceptible to having your banking keystrokes hijacked (see below), but entering that information in a public place would allow an alert thief an over-the-shoulder look at your name, account number and/or password. (Side note: you also want to make sure to password-protect your home Wi-Fi network. Not only will this keep your neighbors from using your account, but it also helps prevent scammers from planting malware on your devices that would let them monitor your activity.)
- Do not save your credit card information on the merchant’s web site.
Legitimate retailers are very good at handling this kind of information, but you increase your chances of being a victim of cybercrime by leaving this critical information with people who don’t really need it. I timed myself once and, including getting my credit card out of my wallet, it took me less than 60 seconds to input my credit card information into the purchase page of a web site. From a security standpoint, it is time well-spent.
- Be sure you understand the return, refund, and shipping and handling policies before you place your order.
Some online retailers take advantage of the fact that they have no physical presence to make returns and refunds difficult. They don’t blatantly lie about it, but some drag their feet and become unresponsive once they have your money and the product is delivered. Having their written policies in hand can be helpful in case of any disputes.