How to shop securely online

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No one is immune to scams, not even Nathan Grant, senior credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider, who tells the story of a time he was tricked online by a change-of-address site.

“I just Googled ‘free change of address,’ and … I clicked on the first link that came up that looked completely legit,” Grant said. “It had the U.S. Postal Service logos and everything, but ended up being a fraudulent site.”

While the site actually provided the service, it charged Grant $45, rather than the $1 it’d advertised.

“So, you’d be none the wiser, if you didn’t pay attention to your transactions,” Grant added.

With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s almost guaranteed many of us will be headed online to do some of our holiday shopping.

Over the years, the internet has revolutionized the way people shop, making it as easy as a couple of clicks for items to show up at your doorstep a few days later.

It has also led to an increase in scammers, with shoppers being scammed every single day online.

With more online shopping also comes more credit card fraud, which has become one of the fastest growing forms of identity theft, according to Grant.

Finding trusted websites to shop on

“Fraudsters are looking for every opportunity they can to try and scam people,” Grant said, adding that there are ways people can avoid being scammed by fake sites.

When shopping online, there are a few things you can look for to make sure a website is secure and legitimate, including HTTPS, rather than HTTP, in the website’s URL, as the S stands for secure, meaning the site has secure encryption, or a lock symbol to the left of the address bar also means that site is secure.

Online shoppers should create unique passwords when making accounts to prevent hackers from accessing multiple accounts using the same login information.

Additionally, shoppers should use secure networks to shop, as hackers can spy on public wifis and intercept financial data.

Beware of untrustworthy ‘drop-shippers’

Have you ever purchased something online only for it to look nothing like the photos and description when it arrives?

It’s called “drop-shipping” and it has become one of the most common ways people get scammed while shopping online.

Amazon, for example, doesn’t just sell its own products. It also lets smaller companies sell items on its marketplace, which they call “third-party sellers” — some of which aren’t as reliable.

Scammers on sites like this often steal a real seller’s photos and listing descriptions, setting up listings of their own selling the same product for a fraction of the price, then shipping low-quality products instead.

Worst of all, you often can’t return the product because many of these third-party sellers don’t offer the same return policy as Amazon, nor do they offer refunds.

However, there are ways to prevent getting scammed by drop-shippers, like reading reviews, as no reviews or negative reviews can often be a warning sign, looking out for long shipping times, as that typically indicates the products are being shipped from China, or checking the return policy before making purchases.

On Amazon, choosing the “Amazon Prime only” option also can rule out scammers, as third-party sellers who use Amazon Prime must abide by Amazon’s terms and conditions, including free shipping and no-questions-asked refunds for returns. Shoppers should compare sellers when making purchases where there are multiple sellers with the same product, looking for the one with the best reviews.

Consider your payment method

A good first line of defense in ensuring your card information hasn’t been stolen is keeping an eye on your online statements, and while there is no guarantee you won’t fall victim to a scam, considering what payment method to use can help you get your money back if you do.

Using a credit card rather than a debit card, which is tied to your actual bank account with your actual money, is one suggestion.

Once money has been removed from your debit account, that money will be gone until the fraud investigation is resolved, which could take weeks, while credit cards are using borrowed credit and have built-in protections.

Online shoppers should also consider taking advantage of third-party apps, like Paypal, that protect your payment information and offer buyer protections when making payments on new sites.

Mobile and digital wallets, like Apple Pay and Google pay, can also be safer, as they, too, encrypt your data, using tokenization to replace your sensitive card data with a string of letters and numbers that are meaningless outside the transaction that produced it.

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