Whether your online holiday shopping begins Bird Day, Black Friday or Cyber Monday – or is already history – here’s a refresher course on how to do it more safely.
- Use a credit card. Payments can be withheld if there’s a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won’t have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. With a debit card, you can’t withhold payments – the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
- Pay close attention to website addresses resulting from online searches of popular gift names – or even words like “toys” and “discount.” Before clicking on links, look for missing letters, misspellings or other tweaks of a legitimate company, such those as ending in co.mn indicating a Mongolia-based website. Also avoid unrecognized vendors. Scammer-run rogue websites may promise deals but deliver malware or identity theft.
- Never provide your credit card or other sensitive information on any page without an “https://” instead of merely “http://”. The “S” is for “secure.” Even with an “https://” avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots for online shopping or other financial transactions.
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- Before ordering, check the “Contact Us” page for a phone number and physical address. Also read the “Terms and Conditions” link detailing return policies and such. Unlike legitimate vendors, bogus websites are less likely to post these – or have them in a suspicious manner, such as providing only a fax number or post office box.
- If shopping at online auction sites, never trust offers that come after you lost a bid but a seller claims to offer you the merchandise off-site.
- At Craigslist or when answering classified ads, deal only with sellers who provide a phone number that you can verify. Don’t rely solely on email correspondence. Assume any request for wire-transfer payment is a scam; also be suspicious of prepaid debit card transactions. Using Paypal or a credit card is your safest bet.
- Don’t believe “too-good-to-be-true” prices from private sellers, or those tied to hard-luck stories (such as a need to sell quickly because of divorce or military deployment). These are common scams to get advance payment – and you’ll likely get no merchandise.
- Think twice before buying gift cards from online auctions. History shows they are often counterfeit or have already been redeemed. Your safest option is to buy them from a company’s website or the store’s customer service counter.
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