It’s that time of year again when you spend brisk nights outside retail stores, or long hours sipping coffee in front of computer screens. All in the name of savings! According to the National Retail Federation, six in ten people say they will or may shop this holiday weekend. That’s more than 140 million shoppers nationwide. But before you get out there and hunt down the deals, you need to be aware of the risks you face, whether shopping online or in stores.
- Make sure the website is secure. When you’re ready to check out, the first thing you need to do is verify that the site address begins with “HTTPS://” which means it has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. Basically, your transaction will be safe and any information you type on that page will be secure via encryption. However, it is also important to check that there is a padlock in the address bar or near the bottom of the page, depending on which browser you’re using. The padlock must be green! Click on it and there will be further information about whether the site is completely secure or not. If there are unsecure resources, think twice before entering your payment information.
- Check for verified seals. These are the little logos usually located at the bottom of the webpage. Click on them for more info. Look for security seals such as Norton Secured, Comodo or Trustwave. These seals verify that the website is legitimate and your information is being secured via SSL, which is another way of encrypting the data being sent over the Internet. Consumer ratings seals, like Stella Service and Shopping.com, are also a good indicator of a company’s trustworthiness based on fellow shoppers’ reviews.
- Use a strong password. It’s easy and convenient to create an account on a store’s website and save your credit card information for future use. But this means you need to make sure your account is secured with a strong password. You should use a string of text that mixes numbers, lowercase and uppercase letters, and special characters like spaces or underscores. Really, the more characters, the better. And these characters should be random, not alphabetical or in the order of your keyboard layout. Still unsure? Visit HowSecureIsMyPassword to check your password’s strength.
- Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. You need to protect against malware with regular updates to your anti-virus program. Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.0 is the editor’s choice at PCMag and has gained a 4.5 star rating. A program such as this is always a good idea for extra protection.
- Know what’s too good to be true. Never give out personal information in exchange for coupons or promotions. Oftentimes, there will be a deal on social media that offers a free product with purchase, in particular an iPad. Clicking on the link can lead to phishing scams, which can result in email spam and identity theft. If you’re ever asked to fill out multiple surveys requesting personal information, credit card details or passwords, this is also a red flag. It can be particularly tricky if friends innocently post the fake deals on Facebook. That’s why you need to look at everything with a skeptical eye.
- Going mobile? Check your network. The trick for an easier mobile shopping experience is to shop directly through apps provided by the official retailers, like Best Buy or Target. If you’re ever unsure, read the app’s reviews, check out the ratings, and search online for any claims of being scammed before downloading. If you’re out and about with your mobile device, be wary of public Wi-Fi networks as they are not encrypted, which means anyone has the ability to eavesdrop on what you send. Only use the Wi-Fi if you access it over a virtual private network (VPN) connection.
In-store shopping tips:
- Use credit, not debit. In case a data breach occurs when you’re out shopping, it’s better to have fraudulent charges placed on a credit card than taken directly out of your account through a debit card. Although your bank protects against fraud, it can be a lengthy process that can take a few days or weeks to get your money back into your account. At least with a credit purchase, you have the chance to dispute any charges before having to pay your bill.
- Protect your PIN. When entering your PIN number in a busy store, be sure to block the keypad from prying eyes. It may seem like you’re in a safe place, but you can never know who’s trying to look over your shoulder. In the same vein, avoid using your address or birthdate for your PIN number. A thief could take a quick glance at your ID and become that much closer to knowing enough information to rob you.
- Know store return policies. Retailers may lawfully include restocking fees, impose shorter return deadlines, and enforce other terms and conditions that differ from non-holiday policies. Be sure to check the return policy on seasonal, sale and clearance items.