Six Best Practices for Safe Shopping Online
There was a time not so long ago when the idea of sharing credit card information online seemed like a shockingly dumb thing to do. How fast times change.
Today, handing a credit card to a real person in a retail store who then swipes your card for you is riskier than most online transactions. This is why we most often swipe our own credit card at the checkout counter now – it solves a safety problem, not a convenience problem.
Online shopping is normal behavior now and it seems like it grows by leaps and bounds each holiday season. According to Gallup Research, 56% of Americans say they are “very likely” to do their Christmas shopping online.
We are all doing it and we can keep our transactions safe by following these guidelines:
Use PayPal and credit cards, not debit cards.
- PayPal doesn’t share your credit card information with the online merchant. Multi-factor authentication can also be enabled to complete transactions.
- PayPal comes equipped with Purchase Protection that will often reimburse you for transactions that don’t deliver what was promised.
- Credit card purchases are protected by Federal laws that limit your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50 but most well-known banks won’t make you pay anything.
- Your debit card is more like writing a check. It’s much harder to unwind a fraudulent transaction.
- Your debit card is tied directly to your bank account. If you do get hacked, it’s much better if the hacker is trying to use your credit card than if they are able to get into your bank account.
Shop with well-known retailers.
- Don’t buy that great-looking winter coat from a retailer in China that you’ve never heard of, and don’t be fooled by searches on strange names for retailers that return great reviews. The retailer likely created the “independent” review page knowing you would do this.
Use safe online habits.
- Don’t shop while connected to unprotected, public Wi-Fi networks.
- Use strong passwords for accounts on merchants’ web pages.
- Beware of phishing schemes promising deals to known retailers or gift card promotions. (If it seems too good to be true, it is!)
Avoid saving credit card numbers or bank information with online retailers
- If you shop online year-round with a well-known retailer like Home Depot or Target, it’s OK to register with them but don’t click the box that “remembers” your credit card information.
- Completing online purchases as a “guest” adds an extra level of privacy and protection.
Shipping updates are classic phishing scams.
- The holidays are a busy time where we are waiting for multiple packages to be delivered. We long for updates that reassure us that our packages will arrive on time. The legitimate updates are great but…
- Scammers know that this is an easy time to get you to click on shipping update emails and texts. Take the time to make sure that a shipping update message clearly correlates to a purchase you have actually made. If the email does not make it easy for you to associate the update with a real purchase, just delete it and move on. This scam happens with texting too.
Use virtual card numbers if available.
- Many credit card companies now give their customers access to a virtual card number just for online transactions. Merchants only receive a one-time password for payment rather than the actual credit card number.
OK, follow these six best practices and it’s likely you will enjoy the holiday season without the bummers associated with online scammers. Really, when you think about it, the one best practice is to be a little bit paranoid and use good common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it’s a scam. If you are being cautious and you can’t decide if the situation is safe, it’s probably not safe. Move on.