As online holiday shopping skyrocketed over the past several years — an increase of 64.1% from 2019 to 2020 and another 8.5% from 2020 to 2021 — sadly, so has fraud related to it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says in 2021, credit card fraud hit $173 million in losses, and people lost more than $337 million in non-delivery and non-payment scams. They also warn about:
- Auction site fraud. A fraudster lists a product they don’t have through an online auction site. Look for prices too good to be true and a lack of transaction history. The FBI’s warning signs can help you spot potentially problematic auctions.
- Gift card fraud. A person asks you to purchase gift cards and pay by handing over the gift card numbers. Often this is an urgent request. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lists common gift card scams and what to do if you paid someone with gift cards.
Online Shopping Safety Tips
Even with the backdrop of a potential recession, online shopping is predicted to grow between 6% to 8% in 2022. It is important, now more than ever before, to be vigilant while shopping online. Here are more tips and recommendations to enjoy your holiday shopping while keeping your personal and financial information secure:
- Practice password hygiene. Use strong passwords and don’t use the same password for all your shopping accounts. If one of these accounts is breached, all your accounts are at risk.
- Demand security. Look for “https” in the website address where you’re shopping online. It means “hypertext transfer protocol secure” and provides a secure connection, protecting your sensitive information.
- Examine domains. Keep an eye on the website address for cybersquatting, which mimics a legitimate site. For example, let’s say you receive an email for a sale on amazon.com. You click the link in the email, and it takes you to amaz0n.com instead of amazon.com where a cyber-criminal is waiting to harvest your credit card information.
- Scrutinize emails. Examine sale emails very carefully to ensure they are authentic. Phishing, a cyber-attack disguised as a legitimate email, is one of the leading causes of cyber security breaches.
- Use credit cards. To minimize your liability, use a credit card or a pre-paid debit card to shop online where possible. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), enacted in 1974, protects consumers from fraudulent charges of more than $50.
- Check accounts. Although the FCBA protects you, it’s important to review your accounts frequently to spot any fraudulent charges quickly. The FCBA allows individuals 60 days to report fraud to your bank or credit card company.
- Break down boxes. A great way to notify criminals about what you have in your house is the packaging box you leave out on trash day. Those new television, game console, and electronic boxes are an invitation to burglars. Break down boxes into pieces that you can put into trash bags or in recycling.
- Monitor mail. Sign up for delivery email notifications of your online purchases and request special delivery instructions if you won’t be home to decrease the visibility of packages. If you trust your neighbors, you also can ask them to hold onto packages until you get home. Don’t forget to thank them and maybe reward them with some baked goodies.
- Verify charities. By some estimates, nearly a third of annual charity donations are made in December. Unfortunately, where there is money, there are scams. The FTC publishes tips to help you ensure your money goes to a legitimate nonprofit, and so your financial information stays secure in the process of donating.
- Update software. Always make software updates to your connected devices, including updating your antivirus software.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi. Unless you know you are connecting to public Wi-Fi through a virtual private network (VPN) on your device, do not trust public wi-fi to secure your personal and financial information. You don’t know if it was set up with security in mind and your credit card or other financial information could be revealed to criminals.
With a bit of shopping savvy, you can delight your friends, family, and stay safe this holiday season.