With the shadow of COVID-19 looming over the 2020 holiday season, millions of consumers are going to be doing a majority—or all—of their shopping online this year. For some, this could be the first year you’ve done any business online.
With the risk posed by the pandemic, staying home and doing your shopping from the comfort of your couch has never been more appealing. That said, you need to be sure that you’re protecting yourself against the threat of fraud.
Below are a few helpful tips we recommend to ensure no Grinches try to steal your holiday cheer this year.
#1. Know Your Seller
It’s not hard for criminals to set up fake stores that they can use to steal your personal information. Many times, they engage in a practice called “typo squatting,” in which they setup phony sites at domains designed to mimic legitimate ones, then trick buyers into attempting a purchase. Think “Amamom.com” or “Amason.com” instead of “Amazon.com.”
You want to ensure that you’re doing business with legitimate sellers, and that the people accepting your payments are who they claim to be. Check the URL in the address bar and make sure you’re on the real site. If you have any concerns, try looking for the business’s customer service information. Most legitimate sellers will make it easy to contact them via multiple channels (phone, email, or social media).
#2. Know the Terms
In addition to knowing your seller, you should also know the terms of service before buying. For instance, does the seller accept returns? If so, do all items apply, or only select ones? Do you have to pay for return shipping or pay a restocking fee?
You should also be aware of how long it will take to ship your goods; this is especially true if the items are gifts that need to arrive in time for the holidays. Most legitimate sellers will provide tracking information, so you can keep tabs on where your package is, and when it should arrive.
#3. Use Credit
Let’s assume that, worst-case scenario, you end up falling victim to a fraudster. Don’t panic; you can dispute the fraudulent charge and recover your funds (more on that here).
While you can dispute fraud on a credit or a debit card, it’s generally best to use credit when possible. With a credit card, federal law still limits your fraud liability to no more than $50. With debit, however, the limit is $500, if you don’t report the fraud within 60 days, you could be held liable for 100% of the losses.
Even if you generally prefer to use debit, credit is objectively safer from a consumer protection standpoint.
#4. Keep a Record
After a transaction, your seller will typically email you a copy of the order confirmation, tracking information, and other key data. You should hang on to this information, even after your goods arrive.
You may need your order confirmation later in the event of a dispute, for instance. Or, if you need to return something, have a record of the purchase could come in handy.
#5. Keep Your Information Secure
Email is not a data-secure service. Critical personal information, like your bank account number, card number, and Social Security number are not safe to send via email.
You should also check to be sure that the seller is secure before you submit any payment information through the site. Look at the website’s URL; it should start with either an “http” or an “https.” The “s” in “https” stands for “secure,” and verifies that the site is using up-to-date data security protocols. Bottom line: if you don’t see that “s,” the site is not secure for your payment information.
#6. Avoid Phishing Scams
Phishing is a tactic fraudsters use to trick consumers into handing over their personal information. The holidays are a peak season for phishing, which we’ve discussed this on the blog before.
Scammers might use typo squatting like we discussed above, or they might impersonate a trusted figure, like a friend or a customer service representative from a site. It’s in your best interest to know how phishing scams work, and to know the warning signs of an attack.