With retailers offering some of their best deals and steepest discounts during the holiday season, it’s no surprise that shopping hype peaks around the winter months. Unfortunately, the bargain-covered landscape also creates boundless opportunity for scammers and identity thieves to deceive or defraud us.
Armed with some knowledge and a little extra vigilance, it’s possible to take advantage of the bargains without falling victim to the increasing number of shopping scams circulating every year. Here are some tips for getting the most out of the holiday deals without putting your personal or financial data at risk.
Practice Safe Browsing
Avoid unsecured public WiFi when browsing, and never expose your personal information on those networks. Open networks are just that, accessible by anyone. As a result, any information you access can potentially be collected by someone else on the network. Reduce your risk by using your phone as a secured, private mobile hotspot or wait until you get home before accessing any sensitive data such as your email or financial institution’s website/mobile app.
Create strong yet simple-to-remember passwords, and never use the same password for multiple sites. Attackers who gain access to your password for one account will often attempt to use it on other accounts associated with your username, email or other data. Using the same password across multiple accounts increases the scope of potential damage should that password ever be compromised.
Remember to logout of websites after you’re finished with them, especially on a shared or public computer. Just closing the browser window isn’t enough; a skilled user could decipher your login information using data from your previous session and gain access to the accounts you visited.
Watch for Phishing Emails
Phishing attempts are one of the most successful methods used by criminals to steal your personal and financial information, and attacks are on the rise. IBM reported that the number of spam emails increased by 400% in 2016, and it’s estimated that spam now accounts for over half of all emails. With malicious emails potentially posing themselves as tracking updates for online orders, account updates or alerts, or even court notices, it pays to be extra vigilant.
Familiarize yourself with the general structure of a phishing email, and be wary of emails offering high demand or high profile products or services (like smartphones, laptops or airline tickets) at prices significantly below the rest of the seller landscape. Besides not delivering on their promises, bogus offers like these can compromise your personal data and end up costing you more than money.
Beware of Fake Websites
Attempts to hijack your sensitive data through phishing don’t stop with email — criminals even create dedicated websites to trick unsuspecting consumers. Even as designs get more sophisticated, though, there are ways to identify these fake sites.
Pay attention to how you arrived at a site requesting your personal information. Phishing emails will often include a link to a fraudulent web page designed to mimic a legitimate one such as a login or order confirmation page, prompting users to enter their information.
It’s possible for phishing sites to obtain a valid SSL certificate and the accompanying reassuring green padlock next to their URLs. Pay extra attention to the structure of the site’s URL to determine the actual domain of the site you’re visiting, especially when shopping. Make sure each site uses secure socket layer (SSL) encryption (the URL should start with https instead of just http), and also check the security certificate of any site that looks suspicious.
Use the Protection Available to You
Whenever possible, use Credit cards over Debit cards. There are many differences between the two types of cards, but one of the most profound is in how fraud protection is handled.
The Fair Credit Billing Act limits liability for fraudulent charges on credit cards to $50, with no liability if the card is reported stolen prior to any charges being made. The Fair Credit Billing Act also limits fraudulent charge liability on debit cards to $50, but a report must be filed with your financial institution within 2 days. If the report is made between 2 and 60 days after the fraudulent charges are made, liability can increase to $500 – with no upper limit if the report is made after 60 days.
Many credit cards also have the added benefit of rewards such as cash back – even those without an annual fee. As long as you pay your balance in full each month, you needn’t incur any interest fees.
Review your charges each month to make sure that all charges are legitimate, especially during times of frequent transactions like holidays. If you see any charges you don’t recognize, don’t waste any time before taking action.
Stay Safe Shopping Online
Whether getting gifts for the loved ones in your life or using the deals of the holiday season to pick up a little something for yourself, there’s no worse way to spend the holidays than dealing with scammers, fraudulent activity, and identity theft. So follow the practices above to stay safe and make sure your holidays are filled with joy!