With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s likely that you have already begun or are about to begin your holiday shopping. Whether you’re shopping online or shopping in a physical store, there are some precautions you should take to protect your personal information, financial information, and your purchases.
Tip 1: Consider shipping to a pickup location
If you’re shopping online, especially if you are splurging on an expensive gift for yourself or another, make sure you choose a secure location to ship to. If you live in an apartment or somewhere where neighbors or passers-by with bad intentions could spot your packages and have a chance to pick them up before you do, then you’ll want to consider shipping to a different, more secure location. Often, online stores will give you the choice to ship to an address or to ship to your nearest FedEx or UPS location for pickup. Many of these delivery services even have pickup locations that extend beyond your regular pickup locations. To name a couple, Amazon Hub Counter and UPS Access Points turns your local convenience stores, pharmacies, or other store locations into pickup locations for your deliveries. Some of these locations even offer 24/7 pickup depending where you are.
Tip 2: Beware of scammy and fake shopping sites
You may see holiday gift ideas or sale advertisements for online stores on social media. These ads or posts will often contain direct links to their websites. While the some of the websites you may be led to are perfectly safe, there are a lot that could be scams. Keep your wits about you and don’t get too excited and impulsive for a good sale. Often, sales that seem too-good-to-be-true will be a scam to either steal your financial/personal information and/or send you counterfeit items.
Anytime you shop, but especially during the busiest shopping time of the year, you should be aware of fake websites. Some scammers will create online shopping sites and apps to have an almost identical look and feel to the genuine retailer they are copying. These websites and apps will intentionally pick a misleading, legitimate-sounding name in order to trick their victims.
If you are shopping from a retailer you never shopped with before or from a retailer you have never heard about before, do some research about the retailer before making a purchase. Often, shoppers will warn others if they have had a bad experience with a retailer. If the retailer is a scam, you should be able to dig up some dirt about them online pretty easily.
Tips to spot a fake online shopping site:
- The site is poorly designed, it has fuzzy or low-quality graphics and has broken links
- An address or phone number is not listed for the business
- You can’t find return policies or privacy policies on the site
- You get stuck on a page and can’t go back
- You’re asked for credit card information when you aren’t making a purchase
Fake apps could place malicious software on your device or access sensitive information stored on your device if you make the mistake of downloading it.
Tips to spot fake apps:
- The name of the app’s publisher isn’t quite right to the real name of the retailer
- The description of the app is poorly written and there are little or no reviews with user feedback
- The app is requiring an excessive amount of permissions in order to install
- The app contains a lot of pop up ads
- You’re constantly being asked to enter personal information
Tip 3: Use a digital wallet
Services like ApplePay or GooglePay can offer a more secure way to pay when shopping online. Digital wallets like ApplePay and GooglePay use tokenization– one of the more secure payment methods available. With tokenization, your information is encrypted to if a retailer was to get hacked, then your credit or debit card number will not be compromised. As a bonus, digital wallets also offer a convenient way to pay: you can use just your smartphone or smart watch without compromising security.
When using a digital wallet, however, you’ll want to make sure you have some physical security methods in place. For example, you’ll want to make sure you lock your phone and wallet app with different codes so if someone sees you entering one, they won’t be able to guess the other to gain access.
For extra safe measures, you should write down the make, model, serial number, and unique device identification number of your device– either the International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) or the Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID). You can usually find the IMEI/MEID number on a label located beneath the phone’s battery or on the box that the phone came in. Some phones will even display the IMEI/MEID number when you dial *#06#.
If your device is ever stolen, your carrier is able to take your IMEI/MEID number to disable your device as well as digital payment apps, blocking access to your personal information. That way you may not need to cancel your cards.
Tip 4: Debit or credit?
If you aren’t able to make a purchase using ApplePay, GooglePay, or another digital wallet service, then a credit card is likely the next most secure payment method to use because if it’s stolen, there are protections in place to keep you safe. Credit cards have better liability protection than debit cards since they don’t pull money directly out of your account. There are federal regulations in place for credit card companies that say you won’t have to pay for a fraudulent charge while the credit card company investigates. Make sure to report a fraudulent charge on your credit card as soon as you notice it on your statement. The sooner you end up reporting it, the higher your chances of full reimbursement.
Tip 5: Be cautious if shopping over public Wi-Fi
Shopping online definitely has it’s perks. But you may want to think about where you shop online. Your physical location while shopping online can make for a more or less secure shopping experience. When you’re at home, you can protect your network from intruders by using a strong router password, limiting what devices can get onto your network, and turning on encryption. However there is no way you can control most of these factors when you’re out and about and using public Wi-Fi.
When a network isn’t secure and you log on to an unencrypted site, then all the other users on the network are able to see your activity. A user with malicious intentions could easily hijack your session and login as you or even just watch you make a purchase and collect your credit card number and personal information.
If you’re needing to make a purchase or even just needing to log on to a website (whether that be a shopping website or a website for your financials) away from home, it is best to use mobile data instead of a public Wi-Fi network. Mobile data is usually encrypted and will offer more security than an open public Wi-Fi network that may or may not be encrypted.
Tip 6: Check your financial statements
The increase in purchases you do around the holidays may add more than a few extra lines than normal to your statements (bank or credit card). This can make it harder for you to notice a fraudulent charge around the holidays, which is exactly what criminals are hoping for. This is why it’s a good idea to be extra meticulous at this time of year when pouring yourself over your financial statements. If you spot a charge that wasn’t made by you, report it to your credit card company or bank right away.