Safe Holiday Shopping Online

There is nothing that dampens the holiday spirit more than being the victim of theft or fraud.  Not only is it financially detrimental, it can leave you feeling violated, fearful and anything but jolly. Now that many of us do much of our shopping online, we consumers are prey to an entirely new genre of thieves.  Don’t let criminals take the joy out of gift giving for you this holiday season.  Protect yourself by applying these practical rules when shopping online.  

Think Clean. One of the simplest things we can do to protect ourselves year round is to keep a clean machine.  In today’s world this means protecting not only your computer but also your smartphone and tablet.  Make sure your security software, anti-virus protection, operating systems and apps are all up to date.

As with most things in life, trust your instincts when interacting online.  Tweets, posts and online advertisements can be a gateway for criminals to compromise your computer or device. Many times clients who have been the victim of fraud tell us, “I thought the link was safe because I knew the person who shared it!”  Unfortunately, we all have to be savvier than ever when deciding whether to click on offers and links.  Take your time.  If something looks suspicious, delete it or mark it as junk mail. 

Remember the old adage of if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially wary of any offers which advise you to act immediately.  Be cautious of any communication indicating that there is a problem with an order you placed or the type of payment used which then asks you to click on a link.  When you do click on a link, even from a trusted source with whom you regularly shop, look closely at where that link is taking you.  You can often root out fraudulent activity by analyzing your online trail.

Today public Wi-Fi hotspots are available around every corner and can be a great convenience when attempting to access the internet from your phone or tablet.  But be cautious about how you utilize a network which does not require a password.  It is unwise to share personal information or financial data over unsecure connections.  The web access provided by your mobile device through a 3G/4G network creates a safer environment. 

When you do manage to land on that obscure website with the perfect gift for that hard to shop for family member, make sure the site is legitimate.  Here are two easy questions that can help you decide. Does the URL address begin with https? Do you see a closed padlock in the browser’s address bar?  Those are both important indicators that the purchase you’re about to make is encrypted or secured. It also doesn’t hurt to check online reviews for newer sites.

While no one likes to read over those ridiculously long privacy policies provided to us by vendors, it is actually a good idea to do so before making a purchase online. That’s the best way to stay alert about the kinds of personal information they are collecting and sharing.  Make sure the information a vendor is requesting is only what is truly needed to complete that particular transaction.  Take measures to protect your personal information online.

Now you’ve found the perfect gift, within your budget, in just the right size and color . . . and you’re ready to pay.  You may think the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to use your debit card and pull that payment directly out of your checking account.  However, when shopping online, using a credit card is generally a much safer option. Credit cards provide more control by allowing you to seek a credit from the issuer if you don’t receive you item or it’s not at all what you ordered.  Under no circumstances do you want to send cash through the mail to pay for your purchases, nor should you use a money-wiring service.

After you’ve completed your online purchase it’s a good idea to keep a paper trail.  Paper trail to you may mean an electronic filing system of email correspondence, screen shots showing product price and description and online receipts.  However you choose to keep your records is fine.  Be sure and read your credit card statement as soon as it becomes available to look for any unauthorized charges.

These tips may seem like a lot of work.  But in reality, most of them take minimal time and effort to achieve. Your peace of mind during the holiday season will hopefully be its own reward. With a few security measures you can enjoy a safe online shopping season – and smugly enjoy the wrapped gifts placed neatly under your tree or delivered safely to friends in faraway places . . . while the rest of us scamper around the mall on Christmas Eve.