Tips for Staying Safe This Holiday Season

Six steps everyone should take to safeguard their credit; identity while shopping online this holiday season:

  1. Don’t use your debit card. Understandably, you don’t want to be tempted by using credit, but in this case, online, you will want to dump the debit card. Using a debit card is like sitting in coach on an airplane — you don’t get first-class accommodations.

A debit card does not have the same high-level of protection as a credit card, warns Colleen Tressler, consumer education specialist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Our advice to consumers is that you want to use a secure form of payment like a credit card,” Tressler said.

When you pay with a credit card for goods, you have certain protections. If your credit card is used without your permission, you can only be held liable for up to $50. And even then, most banks won’t try to collect that from you.

With a debit card, there is not much of a delay from the time of your purchase until the funds are withdrawn from your bank account. This means fraudulent transactions can quickly do a lot of damage. And you may not get a refund soon enough to cover any bills you have coming due.

The reason not to use your debit card is that it gives direct gives access to your bank account, Anscombe said. “If somebody empties your bank account, you might not be able to actually live that month,” he points out. “If your bank account has overdraft protection, potentially they can run through your savings as well.” If you don’t have a credit card, Anscombe recommends getting a prepaid debit card to shop online.

Here’s another tip from Anscombe and Tressler: Pick one credit card to shop with online, preferably one with a relatively low credit line.

  1. Don’t be fooled because of your frugality. Don’t let your desire for a discount make you a phishing victim. If you receive an email for a $50 Amazon gift card, a 20 percent discount or a $10 reward, assume it’s a lie. Don’t click on any links. Instead go to the retail site directly to determine if the offer is legitimate. Also, be careful of phishing emails about scheduled deliveries. The best protection is to suspect everything. If you’re expecting a package and get an email about a delivery, read the subject line and then go directly to the online site to track your purchase. Anscombe also recommended creating a “burner” email, one that you use only when shopping online.
  1. Don’t be so loyal. You give up private information and your privacy — not that we have much privacy anymore — when you sign up for a loyalty program. Unless you truly plan on being a frequent customer, don’t sign up for a program that requires disclosure of information that could end up being part of a data breach.
  1. Don’t store credit card information online. The ease of payment could make you an easy target, Tressler said. The best practice is to use a third-party payment application such as Apple Pay or PayPal, recommends Mike Litt, consumer campaign director for U.S. PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group.
  1. Check out as a guest. The less information you provide about yourself the better. If you need to create an account to snag a sale, delete it after your purchase, Anscombe said.
  1. Check out the merchant’s history. Tressler said the FTC has seen an increase in complaints from people who have ordered things online but never received the goods. Some of this is a result of covid-19 and supply chain issues. But in other instances, it’s the result of fraudulent retail websites. Identity thieves and scammers are extremely skilled at setting up fake websites luring people to them with deep discount deals. If, while searching online you see an item that is significantly less expensive than at other major retailers, that’s often a huge red flag, Tressler said. Don’t just click and buy. Search for the company name adding “complaints” and “scam,” she added.

It’s not safe out there, so shop with caution.

Source: The Washington Post