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As we near the holidays, one thing is certain: online shopping has become a daily occurrence in many households.
While online shopping can be a huge benefit for busy families, it can also open you up to the dangers of fraud — whether you’re ordering grocery delivery through Instacart or getting a jump start on your Black Friday shopping. Here are our Top 8 tips on how to shop — and pay — safely online this season.
Eight Tips for Shopping Online Safely
1. Shop with brands you know and trust.
In today’s world, new brands pop up all the time, and while many are legitimate, hard-working businesses, it also creates an environment where less authentic sites can fly under the radar. Unfortunately, this means that many may fall prey to super-discounted pricing and hand over their credit card information to pay for it, then never see the actual product show up, or worse — become a victim of online fraud.
To fight against this, try to shop only with brands you know and trust. If you are really intrigued by a new brand or product, do some research first. Google the brand's “reviews” and see what comes up. Fortunately, most people who have been bamboozled will have been mad enough to make it public, and you can use their experience to help guide your decision.
2. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
As sad as it is, most global brands don’t make a huge practice of giving away money just because you comment on their post, but fake brands will use your sign up as a way to capture information about you to use elsewhere. Keep your eye out for anything unusual, as some scams specifically use well-known brands, replicate them, and then use the info you provide against you. As an example, if you see a social post that is promoting a free Jeep giveaway under the brand name “Jeep Giveaways”, you can bet that’s probably not the actual automotive manufacturer handing out cars. Also, keep an eye on that inbox for “phishing” and “pharming” scams — emails with links that either request information or download viruses; or links that lead you to a fake site where, once you enter your information, they can capture it and use it to access your accounts.
3. Use URL security.
Along these same lines, double check the URL in the address bar on your browser anytime you visit a site; it may contain clues to who you’re actually associating with. There, you’ll notice an icon — a padlock. When the padlock is open, consider your connection on that site unsecure. If it shows locked, however, any information you exchange on that site has been encrypted for your protection, and you can be more confident that the site you are on is secure. Also, check the beginning of the URL to make sure you see an https:/ connection (meaning the site is secure) if you’re planning to enter any information on a secure site (i.e., payment details, banking information, health data, and more).
4. Do not use Public WIFI. If you do, use a VPN.
Having access to public wi-fi can seem great, but when it comes to using it for shopping or placing your to-go order, skip it. On public WiFi, anyone on that same connection has an easy access point to your information, so when it comes to doing anything that utilizes your private information or any type of payment portal, you’re better off waiting until you’re on a secure server (like a private access point from your own home) to ensure a safer connection. If public WiFi is your only option, you may also want to invest in VPN (virtual private networks) access, which provides you a private connection from anywhere you can access WiFi.
5. Use strong passwords! (A password keeper may also come in handy.)
Hopefully, we can all agree that “12345” or “password” aren’t great passwords, but neither is anything that is close to you, like your child or pet’s name, your street address, or your phone number. The reason is, of course, that any information you give could provide enough information to “guess” your passwords, putting your shopping accounts — and your banking accounts — at higher risk.
Your best bet, in this scenario, is to create (or let your computer auto-generate) those passwords, and then use a password keeper app that can keep track of the info for you, safely.
6. Only provide the pertinent info.
Part of being a smart online shopper is knowing what information is needed and what is not. Unless you’re applying for a credit card, no one needs your social security number online, and be wary of shopping experiences that require your birthdate, as well. Of course, there are exceptions — some rewards programs ask for your date of birth in order to provide birthday perks — but if any site you are on requires this info, you may want to take another look. Outside of the basic shipping information, most shopping carts will only require a few things — credit card number and name, expiration date, and the three-digit code on the back.
7. Keep track of your purchase.
Depending on how much you shop online, it can sometimes be easy to forget when you have bought something after the fact. For all shopping purchases make sure you keep a screenshot or receipt of the transaction, just in case anything happens later and you have to prove it. Additionally, make sure you track those incoming packages so that you can take the necessary steps to get your money back if it is lost or stolen in the process.
8. Consider using a credit card.
No matter how many precautions you take, there is always a chance that someone could get a hold of your account information — something that is true when shopping both online and off. As an added precaution, consider using a credit card for big shopping purchases; that way, if someone does get a hold of your information, it doesn’t also allow full access to your checking or savings account, the way a debit card would. Additionally, you may find added protections and insurances from credit card companies — which will help you recover your funds quickly if they are ever compromised.
Through various tools — like monitoring your account through our online banking portal or getting instant fraud alerts, we want to make sure that every online interaction is safe and secure. If there’s any way that we can help in your efforts, our member representatives are always here to help you maximize your security and safeguard your financial future.
This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
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