Ahh, the holidays. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time for presents! And cheer! And…scams?
Yep, it’s that time of year again.
People are at their most generous and giving during the holiday season, and unfortunately, they are also at their most vulnerable and gullible. Scammers can use something as simple as the age old tearjerker, “I don’t have money to buy my children presents this year,” in order to convince you to part ways with your hard earned cash. Or they could employ online tactics that are much more cunning and could do much more damage to your wallet in the long run.
Let’s take a look at 5 steps you can take to protect yourself while shopping online, not just during the holiday season, but year round as well.
1. HTTP vs. HTTPS and Trusted websites
Never purchase anything from a website that doesn’t begin with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). HTTPS signifies that the site has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. Use trusted, familiar websites. If you stumble upon a website with super low prices that you have never heard of, it should raise a red flag. Always remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Debit Cards vs. Credit Cards
Never use your debit card to make purchases online. It is much easier and simpler to dispute purchases with your credit card company than your bank. If you are a victim of credit card fraud, you can contact your credit card company, and they will typically remove all purchases you did not make immediately. After they confirm with the merchant you did authorize the charges, the removal of fraudulent purchases will remain permanent. If a scammer gets your debit card number, they have access to your entire banking account, and before you realize it, they could spend it all.
3. Check credit card statements regularly
Check your online statements often, not just once a month when they come in the mail or to your inbox. Not only will checking regularly help you catch a scammer before they can do a month’s worth of damage, many credit card companies require that you report fraud within a certain number of days. It’s best to catch it as early as possible to avoid any disputes with your credit card company.
4. Check your credit score regularly
In addition to stealing your credit card information, scammers can steal your social security number and date of birth. They can apply for new credit cards in your name or even for a mortgage or car loan. Unless you check your credit on a regular basis, you wouldn’t realize the damage being done. You’re obviously not going to check the credit card statement of a card you didn’t know you “owned.” Many people find out about an identity theft when they go to purchase their next home or a new car, and by then, the damage can be astronomical.
5. Public vs. Private browsing
Don’t make purchases while on a public computer or while using public WiFi. It is incredibly easy for someone to see everything you do on a public network, and chances are that you don’t want strangers stealing your credit card information or knowing your address. If you must shop on public WiFi, make sure to use a VPN (virtual private network).
It’s important to remember non-technical security as well: Someone in the room could get your credit card information simply by watching you pull it out of your pocket and type it into your phone or computer! Your wallet and devices could also be stolen if you don’t keep an eye on them. Stay aware of your surroundings.