Since we’re heading into the busiest shopping time of the year, we thought it would a good idea to fill you in on a few simple things you and your family can do to avoid being victimized by online holiday shopping scams. After all, even the best home security system in Buffalo can’t prevent you from making the wrong choices online.
1). Beware of Discounted Gift Cards
Q: What do you buy the guy or gal who has everything?
A: A gift card and let them figure it out. Gift cards are the ideal “impersonal gift” for co-workers and acquaintances. They also come in handy as a last minute gift you can buy on your way to a party. However, when it comes to buying gift cards online, you have to be careful. It’s best to purchase your gift cards from a trusted source and avoid buying used or discounted gift cards from websites like eBay or Craigslist. These gift cards may have little or no money left on them, may have been stolen, or may even be complete fakes.
2). Check for SSL Certificates
You just found this great new website that sells that hard-to-find item you’ve been searching for, and at a great price. The only problem is that it’s run out of China or the Middle East and you’re not sure if you can trust sending them your credit card information.
Well, one thing you can do to put your mind at ease is to check and see if the website has an SSL Certificate. Just think of it as a security service for your online shopping transactions. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, which is a protocol used for encrypting your credit card and debit information so that it can be safely transmitted between the browser and the server. That way, if it’s intercepted, no one will be able to use it to rip you off. You can tell which sites have an SSL certificate by the presence of an “s” immediately following the “http” in the URL. There should also be a tiny padlock symbol (closed) in the address bar or in the lower right hand corner of the window.
3). Read Customer Reviews
So, your new favorite shopping site has a valid SSL Certificate and you’re confident that no one will be able to snag your credit card info on its way from the browser to the server, but can this new company be trusted with your info once they have it? For instance: Will one of their employees try to make purchases with your credit card number—putting a cyber spin on employee theft? Will they pocket your money and neglect to send you your item. Will you receive your item only to find it’s a knockoff? ALWAYS READ CUSTOMER REVIEWS! Chances are if the company’s been around long enough to rip off a few customers, somebody’s complained about it. Customer reviews can also shed some light on product longevity, shipping concerns, and the quality of customer service.
4). Check Your Account Balance & Transaction Receipts
As a rule of thumb, you should make a habit of checking your bank account balance often. That way, you’ll know if someone has just stolen a huge chunk of money from you. However, a lot of credit and debit card fraud involves siphoning off small amounts over a long period of time. These thefts are more difficult to detect in the short term since card payments usually take a couple of days to be posted to your account, but after a few days your figures should be up to date.
You should also check and print out the transaction receipts that are automatically emailed to you upon completing your online purchases. The receipts will include important information for tracking your order. Some of the better websites/companies will even send you periodic updates that will keep you informed at every stage of your order— letting you know when your payment was received, when your order began to be processed, and when your order was shipped. These updates will also include an estimation of how long your order will take to reach you.
5). When in Doubt, Ask Snopes.com
We’ve all gotten those ridiculous spam scam emails from countries like Ghana or Saudi Arabia, offering huge cash rewards for your assistance in helping some foreign dignitary transfer his fortune to the United States. These scams always sound too good to be true (they always are) and usually involve depositing a dubious foreign check into your bank account, then wiring a portion of the funds through a reputable service like Western Union before your bank realizes the check is a fraud.
However, Facebook scams and pop-up ad scams may be a little less obvious. When in doubt, check with snopes.com. Snopes.com maintains an extensive and regularly updated list of email and Internet scams (along with multiple variations of these scams). So, if any email or online deal sounds a little suspicious, check before you click. Otherwise, instead of entering to win the latest Apple iPad, you might be downloading the latest Facebook virus.