Holiday shopping is increasingly moving online. This year’s “Cyber Monday” - the online equivalent to Black Friday - was called a “booming success” for shoppers and retailers by several news sources. But as more and more consumers are turning to the web to power through their Christmas gift lists, increasingly more personal information is being transmitted throughout the internet.
Protecting personal information on the web is a crucial element in securing personal identity. If you are planning to do online shopping for the holidays - or any other time of the year - consider practicing these ten safety tips:
1. Look for the Seal
Many online businesses are a part of "seal" or "trustmark" programs that certify the business meets certain consumer and website safety standards. You should look for trustmarks symbols, like the following, on business websites:
According to eConsumer.gov
, when you click on these trustmark seals, you should look for consumer protections like a money-back guarantee or dispute resolution services.
2. Recognize Phishing Emails
Beware of email “phishing” scams that prey on individuals who utilize online shopping. OnGuardOnline has provided these examples of phishing emails:
"We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity."
"During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn't verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information."
“Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”
Legitimate companies don't ask for personal information (credit card and bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc.) via email or text message. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call the company requesting the information, using the number on your financial statements, to verify the legitimacy of the request. OnGuardOnline suggests that you forward phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and to the business, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
3. Confirm Your Purchase Is Secure
Online consumers should always look at the URL (web address) for an “s” in https:// and for the “lock” symbol, generally in the lower-right corner of the browser, before paying. These indicate that the website is encrypted and the transaction is secure.
4. Beware of “Too Good to be True” Deals
The Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers use caution when offered a deal that sounds too good to be true, especially when hard-to-get items are offered at extremely low prices or when “free” gift offers require a credit card number. These types of offers often charge consumers later for products and services they did not realize they were ordering. Be sure to get all of details before you purchase a “deal” item. Items marked as “refurbished,” “vintage,” or “close-out” may not have the same return policy or guarantees.
5. Pay By Credit Card
OnGuardOnline suggests using a credit card or charge card as an extra layer of protection for online purchases. When you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. This law allows you to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them. OnGuardOnline notes that “In the event that someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability generally is limited to the first $50 in charges. Some companies guarantee that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made to your card online; some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.”
6. Don’t Assume Public WiFi “Hot Spots” Are Secure
The Federal Trade Commission suggests that, unless you can verify that a hot spot has effective security measures in place, you may not want to send sensitive information like your credit card number over that network.
7. Know the Merchant
A little research can go a long way if you are not familiar with the merchant with which you are about to do business. Use a search engine to find details on the business’s reputation by searching its name. Many sites like Ebay or Etsy allow consumers to leave “feedback” on sellers so buyers can get an idea of a business’s reputation before purchasing.
9. Check Your Statements
Many credit card companies have online sites where you can check the status of your statement without waiting for the paper statement to come in the mail. Check these statements periodically to watch for rogue transactions.
10. Report Online Shopping Fraud
If you have problems during a transaction, try to work them out directly with the seller, buyer, or site operator. If that doesn't work, file a complaint with:
• The Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint
• Your stateAttorney General’s office
• The Better Business Bureau
EDITORS NOTE: The November 19 issue of the Capitol Monitor featured a chart titled "Who Owns Our Debt." To clarify, the percentages in the chart refer to foreign holders of U.S. debt. A breakdown of total debt held by the public is available here.