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Online Holiday Shopping Scams: 4 Ways to help Protect Yourself

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With the holiday season right around the corner, online shopping can be a fast, efficient solution to the annual gift-buying scramble. However, a few clicks of the mouse can also leave you at risk for online scams. Identity theft and online scams peak during the holiday season cautions Consumer Reports, which notes that 40 percent of all online scam attempts occur during the fourth quarter. Read these few steps to make sure you protect yourself this holiday season.

1. Shop at home, not on public Wi-Fi. The Better Business Bureau warns that scammers may hack public Wi-Fi or set up their own network in public places, hoping to lure unsuspecting users onto their “rogue connection.” Criminals can then redirect users to fake websites that appear legitimate but are actually set up to steal login and password information. Protect yourself by only shopping on secure networks you can control, such as your personal Wi-Fi at home.

2. Click with care. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is, cautions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Scammers can try to lure online holiday shoppers to bogus websites by offering popular products like designer handbags and seasonal toys at below-market prices. These bogus websites may look like visual copycats to mainstream e-commerce portals, but instead, they’re designed to steal financial information. Other sites will bombard you with pop-up ads, which download spyware and malware onto your computer when you click these ads.

Only shop through reputable websites and click with care, advises the FTC. Look for the “https” instead of “http” on the web address of the payment page before you enter a credit card number or other personal information. The extra “s” signals a secure connection. Take an extra step to protect yourself by typing the URL directly into your browser.

3. Use a credit card for online shopping. When shopping online this holiday season, you may be better off using a credit card rather than a debit card since credit cards typically offer stronger protections against fraudulent purchases. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card cannot exceed $50. Additionally, many cards promise zero liability for fraudulent transactions, reports NerdWallet. Debit card transactions are protected differently. These transactions are governed by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), which limits liability to $500 if you report the card as lost or stolen within 60 days. If you take more than 60 days to report your card lost or stolen, there is no liability limit.

Fraudulent credit charges are often credited back as soon as they’re reported, while debit charges may take up to two weeks to reimburse. Additionally, when using a debit card, your bank account balance is impacted from the moment the fraudulent transaction takes place, which could cause a domino impact of financial headaches if you no longer have sufficient funds in your account to cover legitimate charges.

4. Double check invoices. Save all invoices and confirmation emails and compare the amount on the invoice to the amount charged on your credit card. Cross-reference your card and bank statements. If a transaction turns out to be fraudulent (e.g., you make a purchase but never receive the product or purchases are made with stolen information) report the fraud to your credit card company.

Whether you’re shopping online or in-person, remember to take steps to protect your identity and protect new purchases. Talk to your independent agent about the best way to protect your new holiday gifts.


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