Whether you're shopping months in advance or waiting until the last minute, scammers know that flashy deals and special holiday offers make it easier to take advantage of online shoppers.

Follow these tips to help increase your cyber smarts while shopping online this holiday season.

Stick to trusted websites and apps

Take steps to help protect your data. For instance, avoid entering sensitive personal or payment information on unsecured websites. When shopping online, double-check the URL or take other steps to verify that you're visiting the official retail website and not a spoof site. Look for a closed-lock icon and “https://” in the address bar, which indicate a page is encrypted and secure.

Scammers may also target your mobile device. Stay on the lookout for fake app store listings masquerading as popular apps – these apps may collect data from your device to commit fraud. In addition, only download apps from official app stores, such as the Google PlayTM store or the App Store®, as these outlets typically screen for unsafe apps. 

Don’t respond to phishing emails or texts

If you receive an unexpected email or text message containing an alert or order confirmation, don't click links, open attachments, or call a number provided in the message. It could be a fake notification to convince you to visit a spoof website, open a malicious attachment, or call a fraudulent customer service phone number in order to steal your money or identity. If an alert or order is unfamiliar, check if a debit or credit card charge was made.

Watch out for social media scams

Beware of extreme bargains that appear on social media or other sites. A fraudulent social media post may impersonate a reputable company by using the company’s name and logo to convince people to take advantage of a great offer. These posts often link to spoof websites that appear legitimate and request your credit card number along with other sensitive information to complete the purchase. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Think before you pay

Be cautious if sellers only accept cash-like payments, such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards (such as iTunes® or Google PlayTM), wire transfers, or Zelle®, CashApp, or Venmo payments. For example, if you're buying concert tickets as a gift and the seller asks you to pay with a prepaid debit card and then provide the card's serial number and PIN, that's a red flag. After making the payment, you’re unlikely to receive those tickets. Even more, you will have little ability to get your money back as these forms of payment typically cannot be traced or reversed. Use a credit card to buy online since it offers more protection if you don't get what you paid for.

Research before you donate

Some scammers may attempt to take advantage of your holiday generosity by posing as a charitable organization or setting up fake causes on crowdfunding sites.

Always vet any organizations or causes before donating. You can search for charities using online databases like Charity Navigator to make sure they are legitimate. Crowdfunding pages are less transparent. Look for the platform’s verification guidelines and critically examine any causes before you contribute.

Be wise about Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi can expose your data, including sign-on and payment information, because it may lack security protections. A scammer can also set up a Wi-Fi network that mimics the name of a public network available in a shopping center or restaurant to trick users into connecting to the network controlled by the scammer.

To be safe, limit online shopping, banking, and other transactions until you connect to a secure network, such as your home Wi-Fi. Get more safety tips for using public Wi-Fi from the FTC.

While holiday shopping can be a great opportunity to hunt for sales and deals, it’s important to be cyber smart by steering clear of scams, monitoring your purchases, and watching for unauthorized charges on your accounts. By taking extra precautions to shop safely online, you will be able to enjoy the holidays worry free.

See more ways to help recognize online shopping scams and review more fraud prevention tips to help protect yourself year-round.

  Tips  

Always vet any organizations or causes before donating.

Empower yourself with financial knowledge

We’re committed to helping with your financial success. My Financial Guide offers a wide range of helpful information, interactive tools, practical strategies, and more — all designed to help you increase your financial literacy and reach your financial goals.