Protect yourself when you shop online
It might be the season of holiday cheer, but scammers are working hard on stealing your identity.
This post comes from Beverly Harzog at partner blog Wise Bread.
So I got up early, thinking that if I didn't get there by 6:15 a.m., the stuff I wanted would be long gone. You can imagine how surprised I was when I got there and the store was fairly empty. The employees practically greeted me at the door and offered me coffee and doughnuts.
I said yes to the coffee and doughnuts, of course. I had the sales flier with me, so I pointed to what I wanted, and the employees collected it all for me in a cart. I was back at my car at precisely 6:17 a.m., happy and on an exquisite sugar high.
I went from Home Depot to Target and had a similar experience, but without the doughnuts (get with the program, Target!). It was clear to me that folks had decided to shop online.
My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the recent numbers from comScore, a company that analyzes the digital world. It analysts predict that consumers will spend $43.4 billion online this holiday season, 17% more than last year.
But enough with boring stats. The fact is, if you shop online, you need to protect yourself. It might be the season of holiday cheer, but it's also the season of credit card scams.
Here are some things you should keep in mind while clicking your way through the holidays:
Check the URL
Make sure you see "https" instead of just "http" in the Web address. The "s" means it's a secure site.
Now, according to the FTC, seeing the "s" isn't a foolproof method for identifying a fake website, because some scammers try to create a fake "s." Good grief! But at least checking for an "s" is a step you can take to make sure you don't enter delicate information onto a site without the "s" in the address.
Use a credit card
Don't use a debit card for online shopping. A debit card is linked to your bank account, and if the website gets hacked, the thief will have access to your cash.
Sure, you can probably get most of the cash back over time, but you don't need that kind of trauma during the holidays. With a credit card, you have much better consumer protections, plus your cash accounts aren't in jeopardy.
Don't fall for phishing scams
If you get an email asking you to send your credit card account number and password, don't take the bait (sorry, I had to get in at least one lousy "fishing" pun).
The email might say you need to update or validate your account due to a variety of issues, including suspected fraud. The email might even look like it came from your bank. No legitimate company will ever ask for this type of sensitive financial information via email.
You have to be alert because scammers get more sophisticated all the time. I got an email that appeared to come from my daughter, who is at college. There was a link in the email, and I caught myself just in time. The scammer was clever to know that I might open the link quickly since it came from my kid. That was a close one!
Check your accounts online for fraud
This an oldie, but it's a goodie. I know you're tired of hearing it, but think about how often you use your credit card at a restaurant and your card leaves your sight. Even if you're shopping mostly online on a secure, well-known site, you're still exposed in other areas of your life. And what if the reputable, well-known site gets hacked? It happens.
Avoid public Wi-Fi
It might be tempting to kick back with a latte in your favorite coffee shop while making purchases online, but it's not a good idea. Hackers are capable of breaking into Wi-Fi connections at hot spots. Better to get the latte to go and shop at home than to take the risk.
Use virtual credit card numbers
These are also what's referred to as "disposable" or "one-time use" numbers. Some issuers offer this service, which allows you to use a temporary number that's tied to your actual credit card account. When you buy an item, you use the temporary number, so if the site you shopped on gets hacked, the thief can't access your real number. The details for this service vary by issuer. Visa's service is called "Verified by Visa."
It might sound a little tricky to use virtual numbers, but trust me -- the steps are usually pretty simple. And best of all, the service is free.
More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:
- 5 myths about credit card rewards
- 10 things you should do immediately after losing your wallet
- Stupid credit card tricks: How your credit card company lies to you
- MSN Local: This week's local circulars
- 5 ways to reduce ID tracking online
- 8 top holiday scams for 2012
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
Children from lower income families are at greater risk of suffering accidental injuries and being sickened by food, according to a Consumer Federation of America study.