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Updated on Monday, January 18, 2016
Even the word scam sounds sneaky. Unfortunately, it’s still incredibly easy for you to become a victim of a fraudster, because there are more ways to get scammed lately, now that so much money changes hands online and people use smartphones for virtually everything. Shopping online can leave you open to phishing sites and theft your online info.
So how can you stay safe and financially sound? Here are some tips:
1. Go straight to the source for gift cards
If you’ve ever browsed a giant display of store gift cards, you may not realize how easy it is for thieves to steal this information, since they can easily write down the cards’ numbers and check them periodically online to see if they’ve been activated. Once you activate the card, boom, your balance is drained. You’re better off getting a gift card directly from a retailer and not from a display rack.
2. Verify charities
Many scam sites come with names that are very similar to legitimate organizations—or they simply sound authentic. Check with sites like Charity Navigator or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to make sure it’s a real thing. (For more on making sure your charity dollars go to the right source, read this piece.)
3. Use your credit cards
Many shoppers still swipe (or input) their debit cards, but credit cards offer better fraud and theft protection, and if someone accesses your credit card info, it will be a pain in the neck, but they won’t be able to drain your bank account. That’s a plus. (For more on the differences between credit and debit card use, check out this piece.)
4. Be skeptical of contests
Have you gotten any calls recently suggesting that you’ve won a cruise or a luxury trip? Don’t give the caller any personal information, and definitely don’t share your bank account or credit card numbers. This is likely a scam.
5. Use proprietary apps
If you’re using your smartphone to shop, use a store’s official app if you can. Apps usually link directly to your store account, where your credit card information may be stored already. The fewer times you have to type your credit card in, the fewer opportunities there are for it to get pilfered.
6. Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop
If you need to make purchases or log in to your bank or credit card account, do it at home on your password-protected wireless network. When you’re on free public Wi-Fi, you risk someone stealing your information or keystrokes (such as passwords) over the network. While you’re at it, disable any smartphone option that will automatically connect your device to nearby Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth devices.
7. Type in site addresses yourself
See that intriguing link on your Facebook feed? Leave it alone. That nifty product or charitable cause could easily be a phishing site that looks like a legitimate website. Click on it and type your credit card information into the boxes and you could be sharing your financials with the wrong people. Want to donate money to UNICEF? Go directly to unicefusa.org.
8. Check the URL
At the very least, make sure the site you’re shopping from starts with an “https” at the beginning of the web address. The extra “s” means the page uses encryption.
9. Be careful what you click on
At various times of year — the holidays being one — scammers will send you emails that attempt to make you click on a link that delivers a virus or sends you to a phishing site. Much like your Facebook feed, be suspicious of any links sent via email. Either verify that the link is real by checking with the sender, or type the URL directly into your browser instead of clicking through.