Shopping online can be easy and convenient, especially during the holiday season when stores are packed with shoppers and it's harder to find what you want. However, scammers are always looking for ways to get your money or personal information, so it's worth taking a few moments to learn how you can protect yourself when shopping online.
Consider these tips:
How to Avoid Scams
Minimize risks by shopping at well-established online stores with a good reputation. You can often learn a lot about the store by looking at comments and feedback from other shoppers.
Also, when shopping online:
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. Credit cards offer better protection against unauthorized purchases, as you are typically only responsible for $50 worth of unauthorized purchases, if that. Debit cards generally don't offer this level of protection.
- Calculate the total price of your purchase. Before clicking on "buy," make sure the price includes shipping and handling, insurance, taxes and anything else that you expect from the purchase, such as discounts or coupons.
- Read the return policy. Returns are part of the experience of shopping online, and each store has its own return and exchange policy. Some might charge fees for restocking products or for resending merchandise. By reading the return policies you will know what to expect.
- Avoid shopping in stores outside the United States. This can help you avoid problems if you need to return or exchange items or resolve other disputes. Online retailers in the US are subject to US consumer laws and therefore offer protection to the buyer.
How to Protect Your Personal Information
Your personal information can be as valuable as money to a scammer. Scammers can use personal information like your credit card number or Social Security number to shop or steal your identity. To protect your personal information:
- Shop at secure sites. When paying, make sure the website address begins with https (the “s” at the end means it's secure). It also means the website encrypts the information it sends.
- Be careful when sharing your personal information. Don't provide your personal information in exchange for prizes or special offers. It might be a trick to get you to give away sensitive information. Also, avoid sharing your Social Security number and don’t send your personal information via e-mail. It's not safe.
- Be careful when using public Wi-Fi networks. The safest public networks are those where you have to type in a password. Even so, you should always use secure sites (with the address beginning with https) when shopping online.
- Monitor your statements. Read your monthly statements to make sure there are no unauthorized purchases on your bank or credit cards. If you find unauthorized charges, contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.