While the holiday shopping season is packed with flashy deals and special offers, it also tends to attract scammers who may try 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 protect your data. For instance, avoid entering sensitive personal or payment information on unsecured websites. When shopping online, check the URL or take other steps to verify that you are visiting the official retail website, not a spoof website. 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 Google Play or the iOS 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, be careful. These may be fake notifications trying to convince you to download an attachment infected with malware or click a link to a spoof website to provide sensitive information so thieves can steal your identity or passwords.

One popular holiday phishing scam is a fake shipping notification. If you’re unsure about an email that claims to be from a familiar company, don’t click on any links or download attachments. Visit the official company website to check the status of your shipment.

Watch out for social media scams

Beware of extreme bargains that appear on social media or other forums. 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 and 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 merchants require specific payment methods, such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards (such as iTunes or Google Play cards), or wire transfers to pay for goods or services. For example, if a merchant asks you to buy a prepaid debit card, load it with a certain amount of money, and then provide the card’s serial number before sending you tickets for a sporting event, that’s a red flag. After making the payment, you’re unlikely to receive those tickets. Even more, you will have little recourse as these forms of payment typically cannot be traced or reversed.

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.

Avoid unsecure connections

Unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi can expose your data because they may lack security protections. Scammers can also set up a Wi-Fi network that mimics the name of a public network offered in a shopping center or restaurant. This ploy could trick users into connecting to a Wi-Fi 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.

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.

Review more fraud prevention tips to help protect yourself year-round.

 Tips 

Always vet any organizations or causes before donating.

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