6 Tips for Safe Online Shopping During the Holidays

With Christmas right around the corner, stores are busier than ever with shoppers looking to fill their loved ones’ wish lists. Catalogs are arriving in the mail, sales are being posted online, ads are being distributed, and there’s no getting around it. Holiday shopping season is upon us.
 
More and more, however, consumers are doing their holiday shopping online. According to the National Retail Federation, a record 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday this year with spending increasing by 16 percent over the past year. eMarketer, a market research company, believes that holiday ecommerce spending in 2019 will rise by 13.2% from 2018, which is more than three times the rate of total retail spending growth.
 
The benefits and convenience of online shopping are no secret. You can shop from the comfort of your own home, so you don’t have to brave Michigan’s unpredictable elements, wait in lines, or any of the other assorted holiday complaints. However, shopping online is only great until you find the wrong site, fall for a deal that’s just a bit too good to be true, and your information gets stolen.
 
So, if you are one of the consumers planning to shop online this holiday season, how do you keep yourself safe?
 
1. Shop at websites you trust or that you have investigated.

It’s really no different than any brick and mortar store. You can always feel safer about where your money is going if it’s a business you’ve frequented before. You know you’re going to get what you paid for, you know the inventory is actually there, and that it isn’t a front for some scammer to get your information or your money. Almost any major retail outlet will be a safe, secure transaction, but you should always be aware of misspellings in the URL, or sites that use domains other than .com. Both are signs that you might be at a less-than-secure site. When you’re shopping with a mobile device, experts also suggest you use the apps provided directly by the retailers. Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and almost any major retailer has their own app where you can find and purchase items.
 
Additionally, you can do your homework on any new company you might come across by asking these questions:
 
  • Do they have a social media presence?
  • Are they accredited with the Better Business Bureau?
  • Is there a history of scam complaints?
The Better Business Bureau has an online directory and a scam tracker. If you’re concerned, you can also contact the business directly. Experts will tell you that if there’s no contact information readily accessible on the website, it’s a bad sign.
 
2. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

This is a good general rule regarding a lot of things in life, but it is especially true when you are bargain hunting around the holiday season. If a website is offering a too good to be true price on something, that should set off red flags. Look around at other vendors for the same (or similar) items. In some cases, cyber security experts report that suspiciously low prices can be a warning sign that the vendor does not have that item in stock and the website exists solely to gather people’s sensitive information. Likewise, emails from unknown senders which contain a special offer can infect your computer with viruses or malware.
 
3. Look for the lock.

Never buy anything or enter personal data online from a website that does not pose a locked padlock to the left of the URL in the address bar.



This lock represents a safe and secure site and will be present on any website that has HTTPS, where the S stands for secure (instead of just HTTP).
 
4. Avoid public Wi-Fi or use a VPN.

With Wi-Fi at restaurants, coffee shops, malls, and more, it might be tempting to double dip and make a purchase or two while you are out. This is not necessarily the best idea. Wi-Fi networks use public airwaves, and enterprising scammers with a little know-how can snatch things like your name and credit information. But there is a way around it if you just love using your mobile device or laptop in public. It’s called a VPN—virtual private network. You can install and use it on your mobile devices or computer, and it creates an encrypted connection between your device and its server. Think of it like a secure vestibule between your computer and the wider internet. Most good ones are available for less than $10 per month.
 
5. Don’t overshare.

If a site is asking for too much information, or irregular information, that should be another red flag. No ecommerce site should ever ask for your social security number. If you are concerned, contact their customer service line and see if there is some other information you could provide. If you cannot find a customer service line, refer to tip #1. Also, if you have done your research (tip #2), you will probably find a similar price elsewhere and can go to a different vendor with whom you feel more secure.
 
6. Use a credit card when possible.

Both your debit and credit cards with Arbor Financial Credit Union are covered with Visa Zero Liability protection, and we hope you are taking advantage of our ID Theft Protection to safeguard your information. Federal regulations say that if someone steals your credit card information, you will not have to pay while the card company investigates, and you are not immediately out of money. But, if a scammer gets your debit card or bank account information, they can drain your checking account in the meantime.
 
There are also other important things you can do, like routinely check your account, go over printed or electronic statements, be proactive about reporting any irregularities to your card issuer or financial institution, report any bogus companies to the FTC or Better Business Bureau, plus more.
 
Our options are limitless, and our abilities have evolved. Now, we too must evolve with our ever-changing reality and make sure we never find ourselves impacted by dangerous online ventures this holiday season or in the future.
 
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