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Don’t Let Online Scammers Scrooge Your Holidays!

A recent annual survey conducted by the firm Deloitte predicts that, for the first time, Americans this holiday season will spend more money online than they’ll spend in brick-and-mortar stores.

Shopping online can save you time and maybe even money, but it also gives scammers an opportunity to steal your personal information. Follow these tips to ring in the holidays with safe and secure online shopping.

Is the Site Legitimate?
Reputable retailers and popular brands generally have straightforward web addresses. However, if you end up on a site that looks like a seller’s website but has a long string of random letters and numbers as its web address, it might be fake. Look for a street address, a phone number, and other signs that the site is reputable. If the website has obvious grammar and spelling mistakes or a sloppy appearance, it is probably fraudulent. If you’re not familiar with the retailer, search the website name through a search engine or the Better Business Bureau’s site at bbb.org.

A Site with an “s” is Secure
Look for “https://” at the beginning of a web address (and perhaps a padlock symbol before it). The “s” stands for “secure,” which means that the information passed between your computer and the website is encrypted. This makes it difficult for hackers to intercept sensitive information that they could use to charge your credit card or, even worse, steal your identity. Keep in mind, however, that even a “secure” website doesn’t absolutely guarantee security—it simply means your data safely travels from your device to the site. A secure site does not ensure that the site stores your data securely or is legitimate to begin with.

Use Your Credit Card to Pay Online
A credit card is generally the safest way to pay online. It provides you more protections than does a debit card, prepaid money card, or gift card. Credit card issuers generally offer you the ability to dispute charges for unsatisfactory goods and services, and protect you from unauthorized charges if a criminal steals your credit card information. If you think you may have provided card information to a website that is fraudulent, contact your card issuer as soon as possible. Avoid sites that ask for payment by cashier’s check or wire transfer. And, however you pay, be sure to keep copies of your purchase records and emails.

Review the Return Policy
What if the clothing is one size too small, it’s a gadget you already have, or you’re simply not satisfied with the merchandise? Before you order online, understand the site’s exchange and return policy, including whether the retailer charges a restocking fee and who pays for return shipping. If a website does not publish its return policy, or posts “no returns” or “all sales are final,” carefully consider that before placing an order. A reputable retailer will almost always accept returns and will clearly disclose its terms and conditions.

Too Good to be True?
When you come across an unusually good offer online from a seller you don’t recognize, be sure to check with other retailers for comparable prices on comparable merchandise. If you can’t find a similar offer from a reputable seller, it’s possible the “deal” could include hidden costs or additional charges, or could even be a ploy to steal your credit card information.

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