Online Shopping, a Fraudster’s Playground

a young man sitting on the floor of his house, leaning against a wall next to windows looking out to a small balcony, and he's typing on a laptop and has a tablet sitting next to him on the floor

Online shopping can be a great way to save time and money, especially when it comes to school and the holidays.  It can also put you at risk, if you are not careful, because the internet has become a playground of opportunity for fraudsters.  Before you shop online, remember to ask yourself these critical questions:

1.  Is the internet connection secure?  Free Wi-Fi offered at places like a coffee shop are typically not secure.  It may be easily accessible for you, but because it is an open network, you may have others watching.  While you are online, hackers can gather your personal and payment information, without you even knowing it.

Tip:  Don’t use Wi-Fi when you’re shopping online or looking at sensitive information (like checking your bank statement).  If you can’t confirm the source of the Wi-Fi and its security, don’t use it for anything.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

2.  Is the particular website secure?  Data leaks and security breaches (Remember the Heartbleed Bug?) reminds us that before we begin something online, we should make sure the site has the SSL lock and protects our personal information.  Identity thieves use the internet as an opportunity not only to hack “open” or “unsecure” connections, but to also create websites that look identical to other secured sites.  They will copy authentic online shopping domains or bank interfaces in order to lure you in and steal your information.

Tip:  Look for that little green lock to the left of the web address and see if the website begins with “https” rather than “http” because “https” is a more secure connection.

3.  Do I really know what I’m buying?  Titles like “vintage” tea pot or “refurbished” entertainment center might catch your eye, but check the details before you actually buy the product.  Items with qualifiers like “vintage” or “refurbished” could mean that the product isn’t in the best condition and may not be worth it.  Also consider that the bargain deal offered for name-brand items could mean that the items are knock-offs.

Tip:  Read the fine print before you buy an item.

4.  Do I have all the necessary records?  Keeping records of your online transactions can help you catch problems before they get worse.  For example, you can use records of online transactions to make sure that a vendor charges your credit card correctly (by comparing your records with your credit card statements), or to validate a purchase when the vendor doesn’t fill the order properly.

Tip:  Whenever you make an online transaction, whether it’s shopping for your grandparents’ anniversary or making reservations for the hottest club in town, keep a record of the transaction (e.g. the services requested, the amount, the payer and payee, the type of payment, when the transaction occurred, etc.) so you have the info on hand should a problem arise.

Next time you jump online, remember that while you’re shopping for a Halloween costume or Christmas stocking stuffers, a thief could be shopping for your personal information.  If you have questions or think you are a victim of identity theft, talk to your Money Coach about how best to move forward. Call 888-724-2326.