Safer Online Holiday Shopping

The holiday shopping season is once again upon us, and over the next few weeks we will be spending lots of time searching for the perfect gifts for our loved ones and maybe even spoiling ourselves with something nice too. Regardless of whom you are shopping for, chances are some of that shopping will be done online. Online shopping is very convenient and generally safe, but it is important to keep in mind a few simple rules to make sure that your online shopping experience remains safe and enjoyable.

Before purchasing a product from an online store, make sure that the online merchant is one that you are familiar with or that you trust. There are many sites on the internet that claim to have the best prices or list products at incredible savings to draw you in. Be wary of sites that offer deals that seem too good to be true. Chances are the deal is too good to be true and you could be giving a scammer your personal financial information.

When checking out at an online store, before you enter your personal information, take notice of the site’s security to verify that your information isn’t being sent to the retailer unencrypted. Information such as credit card numbers, that are sent unencrypted, can easily be captured by a scammer. To verify that your information is being sent encrypted, look to the bottom right of your web browser for a locked padlock or a key. Also, take note of the site’s address at the top of your screen where the web site address is displayed in your browser. If the web site address starts with https rather than http, the “S” being the important part, then the web page is encrypted and your information is much more secure. If you do not see those indicators and the site is not a site you are familiar with, then you should probably avoid entering any personal information.

Avoid clicking on advertisements to product deals that you get through a pop-up window or from an e-mail that you did not solicit. It is possible that these links are phishing schemes designed to get your personal information rather than an offer for an incredible deal.

If possible, utilize virtual credit card numbers to make your purchases. Virtual credit card numbers are onetime use credit card number that your credit card company or financial institution can generate for you to use while shopping online. The virtual credit card number links to your credit card, but if the number is stolen by a scammer they wouldn’t be able to use it to charge to your account since the number is good only once. This is a great way to protect yourself and your credit card from fraud. Check with your credit card company directly or financial institution to see if they offer the service. You can usually get the virtual credit card number directly from the financial institution’s web site.

Finally, before starting your online shopping, update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and install the latest security updates to your computer to help protect against the latest viruses and spyware that are trying to steal your information.

Following these simple rules will help keep your personal information safe and your holidays a little more stress free. If you are unsure as to whether a site is safe, or if you think you may have fallen victim to a fraudulent site, contact your computer support person and your financial institution to make sure that your personal information hasn’t been compromised.

Ryan’s articles can also be seen in Berkshire Business News, published monthly by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.