The internet is a great way to avoid crowds, conserve fuel, and find real bargains during the holiday shopping season.
- Use firewalls, spam blockers, antivirus and anti spyware programs. Keep your defenses as well as your holiday spirits up to avoid trojans and spyware.
- Keep your browser (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) up to date.
- Make sure your home wireless network is secure. If neighbors can tap into your network, so can thieves. This also means securing against junior members of the household who can (unwittingly, we hope) order items, online subscriptions or games with your previously stored information. Most internet service providers can assist you with setting this up.
- Use a credit card, not a debit card, for high-ticket online purchases. Most credit card companies provide additional protections against fraud, identity theft, and dispute resolution. Debit cards do not generally have the same levels of service.
- Always use secure connections when checking out. Look for “https,” not “http” in the URL of the site, to ensure you are checking out securely. Make sure all the personal data is encrypted.
Common Sense Gets No Holiday
Shop from reputable merchants. Scammers create fake websites for the holidays, dangling the year’s latest hot gift as bait, to collect your financial data. If you find an item online and a local merchant has it, you will generally do better purchasing locally. First, you support your community and second, if a problem arises, you have a place to return the item. It is bad form, also, to browse in brick-and-mortar stores and then sneak home to purchase the same item online for a few dollars less. Your savings will be trifling (gas, shipping fees and your time all cost money) and the local merchant loses your business.
Shop with your eyes open and your common sense on high alert. It is seductively easy to relax in your pajamas, coffee mug in hand, and feel like the whole shopping world shares your laid back attitude as you surf with high speed internet.
If you find a “bargain,” consider the risks. Prices too good to be true, items otherwise unavailable due to popular demand, and promises of free shipping, gift wrap and rush delivery are all warning signs. Reputable sellers will not bait you with come-ons and switch to surprise fees during checkout.
- Never share personal information in response to an e-mail. Identity thieves and scam artists can seize the tiniest shred of information—often only your e-mail address—and make you think they represent a store or business you use. Genuine businesses are not going to solicit that information by e-mail; your online account with them has everything they already need.
- Don’t go all soft on us, now. Keep your emotions in check. During the holidays, scam charities proliferate. Consider how humiliating it would be to “donate” to a bogus charity that is just after your credit card number. You’ll have paid a thief to steal from you.
- Do not click on pop-ups. These low-hanging fruits might suddenly appear over your browser page with false promises of freebies (magazine subscriptions, pharmacy discount plans). Zap them (Control and W for Macs; Control and the F4 button for Windows) or ensure your browser has secure settings to shut them down.
- Avoid shopping from mobile apps, public kiosks, libraries, or internet cafes. Even if you wipe the browser clean before you go, you can’t control actual eyes watching over your shoulder as you enter credit card numbers or PINs.