This year’s holiday shopping season has begun, and Americans are increasingly turning to the internet to make their purchases. On Black Friday, Americans spent over $5 billion in a 24-hour period — a 16.9 percent increase in dollars spent in the same time frame last year. It isn’t difficult to see why. Christmas shopping has long been associated with lines, stampedes of shoppers trampling over each other, and waiting outside in the cold at ungodly hours hoping to be one of the first few in the door. Now that there’s another option, people are taking advantage of it.
As online shopping continues to grow, so too will the numbers of identity thieves, fraudsters, and other ne’er-do-wells looking to steal what they can and sour your season. Below are some tips that can help you avoid a potentially costly mistake:
- Keep to brands and businesses that are well-known and have a good reputation. Popular online shopping sites like Amazon, Best Buy or Walmart have systems in place to reduce the chances of their customers being victims of fraud. Shopping with them is a lot safer than with smaller, unknown sites. While you’re safer from fraud using these sites, you’re not necessarily going to get quality merchandise. If the price of something seems too good to be true, it could be a foreign knock-off.
- Do your due diligence. If you shop at smaller boutique sites, check out some of their reviews, but not necessarily those listed on their website. Google Reviews can be especially helpful in this area to see what people are saying about the company and products. If they’ve been around awhile and have a lot of satisfied customers, odds are you’re going to be one too.
- Ensure your antivirus is up-to-date and your device is clean of malware. Always update and run your antivirus software prior to shopping online, whether you’re buying a $10,000 couch or a $20 pair of pants. Malware is abundant on the internet, and it can sit quietly on your machine just waiting for you to type in your identifying information and/or credit card/bank account numbers.
Don’t make purchases over public Wi-Fi. If you’re going to shop online, do it at home over a secured network. It’s easy for thieves to steal your information when you’re transmitting it over an unsecured connection.
- Pay via PayPal when possible. PayPal isn’t just a convenient way to pay for things; it serves as a protective middle-man between you and the business you’re buying from. It’s a lot easier to stop payments with PayPal than it is with your bank, and if the person you’re dealing with is trying to steal your information, a lot less damage can be done with PayPal info than with your bank account/debit card number.
- Keep an eye on your transactions. Check regularly for any questionable purchases on your bank and/or credit card statements. If you end up the victim of identity theft, the best thing you can do to mitigate the damage is to find out as soon as possible.
- During the holiday season, opt not to have several boxes delivered to your front door, especially if you’re not going to be home. There are many “package pirates” scoping out neighborhoods, ready to grab boxes off of your doorstep during the holidays. Sign up to have your boxes delivered to a secure place, such as a mailbox store. On the cheap, they will sign for and hold all your packages until you’re ready to pick them up. Or plan to have someone, such as a good neighbor, accept them on your behalf.
There’s no real way to be 100 percent safe when online shopping, but taking a few precautions like those listed above can considerably reduce your risk level. Most thieves want easy targets, and those who take steps to protect themselves are often not worth the trouble.