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Posted on December 20, 2018

Common Sense Refreshers for Online Shopping Safety

The holiday season is typically the best time to get great deals on products of all kinds for the people you love. At the same time, it’s important to ensure that any payment and personal information you share is secure. There are several steps you can take to be secure with your information, most of which are easy things to manage and look out for. With $110 billion spent online so far this year, anyone buying holiday gifts online should be taking precautions regardless of how savvy they think they are.

One of the easiest actions you can take when buying things on any website is seeing if the site stores your personal and payment information on an account, or if you can check out as a guest. Typically, if a website lets you check out as a guest, it won’t store your information for future purchases, so you’ll have to input your credit card and other info each time.

While it may take a little longer if you want to buy something else on the same website, you’ll rest easy knowing that your personal data is securely in your hands. TrackOFF’s software also helps keep your shopping activities anonymous, so that websites can’t store cookies or other sensitive transactional data while you’re browsing. Unfortunately, some websites automatically try to gather as much info from your browser once you start navigating their site, but with TrackOFF, you’re one step ahead of greedy data collectors.

Another simple step consumers can take to prevent future headaches is to only use a credit card while shopping online. This ensures that you can be reimbursed if something goes wrong with the transaction, or you inadvertently become the victim of identity theft. Many banks won’t reimburse debit card purchases, so to play it safe, stick with credit.

And always, common sense prevails: be sure to check your bank statements, to watch for things like pricing inconsistencies that happen after the purchase. Sometimes extra charges can be overlooked when we’re shopping for everyone on our list. If there’s an issue with the transaction, it’s important to try and correct it as soon as possible, as most banks have a limited number of days after posting to lodge a complaint. If you fall outside of those dates, you may find yourself out of luck.

Even in our mobile-centric society, more than 60% of purchases made online are still made on desktops or laptops. Because of this, there are more opportunities to steal or otherwise misuse the personal information of millions of people. Even on mobile devices, consumers aren’t always safe, and the allure of potential discounts and limited time coupons can prey on even the most careful shoppers.

Since many people opt to receive newsletters and coupons through email, scammers can effectively bait subscribers into clicking a link that leads to a malicious clone of a popular shopping site. At this point, the buyer’s personal info is  gathered and misused in a form of identity theft known as phishing. This tends to be an easy way to obtain sensitive info, as many consumers fall prey to convincing—yet fraudulent—copies of popular ecommerce destinations. Too-good-to-be-true deals like a splashy offer of  “99% off Amazon items” should be considered fairly obvious scams to be judiciously avoided.

A good way to tell if a website is safe, legitimate, and secure is to check for the “https” at the beginning of the URL. This can usually be denoted by a closed padlock symbol or the “https” letters in green. This shows that the website has an official certification ensuring that its data is collected and secured properly. Sites like Amazon, Facebook and Google are prime examples of this, as they are well-trafficked websites that store a variety of sensitive consumer information, for buyers or otherwise, and it is in their best interest to make sure all that data is encrypted with a high level of confidence.

While some legitimate websites may not have this designation, it’s important to look for other signs of a potential scam, such as prices that defy logic for popular brand name products, frequent misspellings, and generally poor website design. This usually means the site has been set up quickly with “clickbait-y” links and attention-grabbing brands, all of which are cynical grabs for your eyes and your credit card digits.

Staying safe while shopping online requires a bit of common sense as well as general knowledge of how all the scams and baiting tactics work. Once you’ve equipped yourself with these tools, the only thing you’ll have left to worry about is checking off all the gifts on your Christmas list.

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