Online Shopping

Tips for the Holidays to Protect Your Personal Information, Avoid Becoming a Scam Victim, and Prevent Identity Theft

Cyber Monday is coming, so here are some tips and advice to make your Christmas online purchases more safe and secure.

Don’t make purchases at a public Wi-Fi connection.  Hackers can tap into these.  Also, don’t use these connections to check your bank account.

If you order from eBay, don’t wire money to anyone.  You have no way to get your money back if there is a problem.Online Shopping

Be very careful with Social Networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.  The links are often shortened, so you don’t know where they lead – some of them may put viruses on your computer, or the sites may be bogus (see below).

In the past, the Facebook site has been used for scams, where you are enticed to click on a bogus news story or ad.  When you do that, you end up on a “splash page” or “landing page” – if you click anything on that page, things are automaticaly posted on your Facebook wall.

This is called a clickjacking/likejacking attempt.

If you use the Firefox browser, you can get a NoScript extension to prevent this – it blocks all scripts or code on web pages that are used to attack your system.

Know which websites you are going to use for online shopping.  Go directly to the store site, by typing their address in your browser, or using your Bookmarks menu.  If you click on links from Search Results pages, those could be bogus sites that might misuse your personal information, or even put a virus on your computer.

Look for sites with a Security Label such as VeriSign or Cybertrust, and a secure checkout page or site – look for “https” before the web address.

SSL IconUse sites that have a secure server that uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption.  This is a technology that encodes secure information sent to and from the websites that use it.  Look for the Lock Icon in the bottom of your web browser.

I suggest not giving out your credit card number to a lot of different sites.  Use PayPal instead.  No, I don’t get any kind of commission by saying this – this is what I do.  PayPal has built in purchase protections – if your order never arrives, it’s different than what’s described on the website, or you were charged for something you didn’t order.

Check to see if the merchant or website you’re using has Contact Information, in case you have questions or a problem with your order.  You can even ask a question before you place an order, and see how fast and how good of a response they give you.

When ordering gifts, check or ask them if the package will have a picture (on the outside of the package) of the item inside, or some other information you don’t want the recipient (family member) to see.  If they can’t change the package, consider shipping to a UPS or FedEx office, or friend’s home.

Check out the site’s Shipping and Return Policy before you place an order.  If they don’t have a Shipping or Return Policy and/or it’s hard to understand, I would look for someone else to buy from.

Also, look for websites/businesses that give you their actual physical address, a phone number, and some “About Us” information.  If they don’t give any of that, I would strongly consider shopping somewhere else.

Check out their Better Business Bureau record.  If the website name isn’t listed in BBB records, they may be owned by a parent company.  However, most reputable companies should have a BBB listing under their website address.  If it’s too hard to find the BBB information (“Your search for – “” – did not match any URLs.” keeps coming up), I wouldn’t use that company.

Sometimes price isn’t that important.  I’ve looked for sites with the cheapest price, only to find that shipping took forever, and/or the item wasn’t packaged well.  I’d rather pay a little more and get fast/secure shipping and good customer service.

Give only the minimum amount of information necessary on website forms.  You shouldn’t have to fill out every blank on the form.  Many of the fields are optional, and typically used to collect information that’s sold to marketing companies.  Fill out only what’s required.  Sometimes you have to Uncheck boxes that say your name will be put on an email list, sent other offers/solicitations, etc.

Holiday ShoppingUse an email address other than your primary one, such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc., in case companies give out your email address.  This way, you won’t get spam to your primary email.  I also think the online services make it easier to filter and delete spam than primary email providers.

Keep records of transactions.  You can print out copies of final orders, or email confirmations, and even keep copies of the order numbers and other info in a Notepad file on your computer

Check your online bank and credit card statements to make sure the charges went through OK.  It’s best to use just one credit/debit card for online shopping, so you can easily spot an unauthorized purchase.

Contrary to what you might hear, debit cards do offer liability protection, but you may have only a couple days to report any fraud to get the protection.  You may have a longer time with credit cards, but check your bank’s policy to be sure.

Helpful sites:

To check Better Business Bureau ratings of companies and file complaints:

Better Business Bureau

More consumer information:

National Consumers League

National Consumers League – Fraud Center

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