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Tips for Safer Online Holiday Shopping

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  • 5 min read
Follow these tips to stay safe when shopping online.

As the U.S. economy continues to dodge a recession, many economists expected consumers to pull back on holiday spending for 2023. And yet, recent surveys have shown that most of us plan to spend an average of $1,652 this season—the highest amount since pre-pandemic figures.

The biggest reason consumers are expecting to spend more this year is because of inflation. Prices are higher on everything from groceries to gas, so most of us have adjusted and stretched our budgets to fit those higher price tags.

The second biggest factor for that increased holiday spending limit? Simply put, fun. Economic uncertainty coupled with a stressful news cycle means consumers are looking to splurge—both for themselves and for their friends and family members. So, experts are predicting a lot of bargain hunting between now and Christmas Eve.

The Pitfalls of Online Bargain Hunting

Money is tight for many Americans. That means shoppers are on the lookout for great deals—both in stores and online. Unfortunately, the ease and convenience of online shopping means a rise in cybercriminals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting bargain hunters. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid such cyber threats.

Of course, when you shop in stores, you may not think twice about locking the car, stashing your packages in the trunk, and securely storing your cash or credit cards when you’re done with your purchases. When shopping online, you can build similar self-protective habits to safeguard yourself, your purchases, and your identity. Here are a few tips to help you shop safely this season:

1. Shop with trusted retailers.

Let’s say you are scrolling through social media, and you run across the perfect gift for a loved one. You’ve never heard of the company, but you love the item and want to do your part to support small businesses. Should you buy the gift? Maybe—but do a little research first. It’s great to support small and local shops, but also wise to be wary of false sites designed to steal their customers’ personal and financial data. Before entering your credit or debit card number into an unfamiliar website, search for the company’s name plus the word “reviews”, “complaints”, or “scam”. If it looks suspicious, use your credit card (more on that later) or see if you can purchase the item from a known retailer instead.

2. Check the website’s security.

Check the URL of the website you are shopping on. Does it start with HTTPS? In most cases, the “s” indicates that the webpage is secure (but not always). If you don’t see an “s” or a small lock in the corner of the URL field, that means there is no privacy protection. Not all pages that lack these indicators are dangerous, but you should proceed with caution when shopping or providing personal information on these sites.

3. Trust your instincts.

From October through December, ‘tis the season for great sales, but it is also a high season for scammers. If you come across a great deal, remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”.

4. Do your homework before downloading.

If you are shopping from a retailer app, make sure you have downloaded the app from a trusted source (like the Apple or Google Play stores). Do not download a retailer app from a link in an email or on a website unless you are certain that it is legitimate. Then, read through the app’s permissions (yes, you should actually read the terms and conditions) to see if anything seems fishy. It’s also a good idea to read through the reviews of said site to see if there have been complaints of bad practices.

5. Beware of public wi-fi.

Shopping from the local coffee shop? Remember that when you tap into public wi-fi networks, hackers can intercept what you are viewing and target your name and credit card information. If possible, stick to a known network. If you must shop from a public location, consider logging into a personal hotspot generated from your smartphone—for at least as long as you need to make your purchase. When you do, make sure the connection is secured with a complex password, so nobody else can gain access to it.

6. Watch out for email scams.

If you get an email with a special offer, double-check the sender’s information before clicking any links or opening any attachments. If the sender is unrecognizable or is using a slightly tweaked version of a known contact or company name, delete the email. If you can’t resist the deal, go directly to the company’s website to see if the deal is legitimate.

7. Use your credit card.

When you use a credit card (instead of your debit card) to make holiday purchases online, you’ll get an extra layer of protection against fraud. Plus, it’s easier to get your money refunded if a purchase goes awry. The difference is this: with a credit card, it is the card issuer who must fight to get its money back. When you use a debit card and a fraudulent transaction occurs, it is you who must fight to get the money back or accept the loss.

So, are you ready to hunker down and start shopping? Stay vigilant and you are well on your way to an (almost) stress-free holiday season. If you suspect you have been the victim of fraud, act fast to resolve the issue. Let us know if you suspect fraudulent activity while shopping online and we will work with you to stop the fraud and keep your accounts safe. Just call or text us at 503.588.0181 or stop by one of our branches to learn more about protecting your finances and your personal information.

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