As the holidays approach, more consumers than ever are ordering gifts online from the convenience of their living rooms rather than braving the unforgiving weather and tough crowds that are hallmarks of the season. But, while you may be used to online shopping now, and you don’t give the idea a second thought, are you actually being as diligent as you should be? Here are a few common sense ideas that everyone should follow to stay safe when shopping on the web:
Don’t Take all Offers for Granted
Regardless of where you may shop, the buyer must be aware, and this is especially true online. If a website is offering a top-shelf item at a rock-bottom, discounted price, little bells should go off in your head that something may not be completely on the up-and-up.
While it could very well be a legitimate sale, it pays to conduct your due diligence. You should research any company that you are unsure about online on review sites to get an idea of their ongoing customer service policies. Also, try your best to find a physical address or phone number to contact the company just in case something was to go wrong.
Credit Cards are Always Safest
The safest method for making online purchases is via a credit card, as opposed to using a bank-issued debit card. There are many reasons for this. For example, credit cards tend to have spending and credit limits, while your debit card is connected to your bank account, acquiring the purchasing power of your total balance. This is a terrifying thought in this age of prevalent identity theft.
Also, if you are a victim of fraud, you will not have to wait until the conclusion of a lengthy investigation to get your cash back if you always use a credit card. Instead, you will most likely have fraud protection and the option to request a chargeback. "In some situations, we have [even} succeeded in initiating a chargeback up to a year-and-a-half [540 days] after the transaction occurred," explains chargeback expert Alex Hamilton. The only worry you will have is whether or not the incident will have a lasting effect on your credit report.
Anti-malware Programs are a Must
A good anti-malware program is definitely required before you engage in any type of e-commerce. Preferably, install a program that is able to update automatically when you re-boot your computer so you won’t have to worry about missing an upgrade or a patch program. Keeping your computer protected from viruses and spyware will ensure that your personal information is protected and encrypted at all times.
Create Strong Passwords
Any consumer’s best defense against hackers and fraudsters is probably an unbreakable password. The toughest to crack are those that do not have any rhyme or reason and do not even form real words. Adding in numbers, capital letters and punctuation marks only makes these passwords stronger. Remember, it is best to have separate passwords for all accounts so if one is hacked, at least the others are still safe.
Print Out Copies of all Orders
To protect yourself in case an item doesn’t ship, it is best to keep some type of digital or physical record of every online purchase that you make. You are usually assigned a confirmation number and given a receipt by most reputable companies, and it probably advisable to make a screen capture and save a copy on your device or computer. Or, many times vendors will simply email you either a receipt or a proof of purchase. You should save these in a separate folder in your email or print them out for safe keeping. This practice should also make returning an item much less of a hassle.
Always Review your Statements
If you tend to shop online a lot, it is also a smart idea to keep a close watch on your credit card and bank statements as they come in the mail or are emailed to you. Check each right away to ensure that you recognize each charge or debit as a purchase that you or an authorized user had made. Verify all amounts with your records (see above) and report any unfamiliar charges to your bank or credit issuer immediately while the trail left by the possible thief is still hot. Waiting too long could result in the perpetrator getting away with his or her crimes.
In conclusion, keeping these tips in mind will keep you much safer online during the upcoming shopping season. It is much better to be safe than sorry, so a bit of caution can go a long way, and there really isn’t such a thing as being too careful.