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Safe Online Shopping Tips this Holiday Season

By (view all posts by Dealman)
at 12:14PM Monday December 7, 2009
under Shop Smarter

Sure, when you shop online you don't have to brave the holiday crowds and fight with other customers for the last Tickle Me Elmo (or this year's hot trend: the plastic hamster), but you should still be mindful when shopping online.  Just because you're saving money by using an online coupon, there are still ways for identity thieves and other culprits to use your personal information.  By and large, online shopping is safer than it was in the early days of e-commerce, but online thieves have also gotten more sophisticated.

Here are some tips to stay safe when shopping online during the holiday season:


Use credit cards.  Yes, this flies in the face of some of the advice given here, as credit cards are more expensive, but it's easier to get your money back if you use credit rather than debit.  The reasons to use credit are as follows:
  1. The ability to cancel payment should an item be defective and the merchant is not offering returns (if they have a return policy).
  2. The ability to cancel payment if you discover fraudulent charges.  With debit, you may not be able to recover these funds if the discovery is not made in 60 days.

"Safe" is relative, though.  Some would say that saving money is safer and given the fact that credit card interest might negate whatever coupon savings you've used, debit could be seen as the safer bet.  If you do use debit, keep an eye on your statement to make sure your card is not being used fraudulently.

Have anti-spyware, anti-virus, and anti-malware protection. Having fancy passwords for each site isn't enough--even if it's a mixture of numbers and capital letters.  Spyware can read what actually letters and numbers you're plugging in so those *** or dots aren't encrypted at all. This means that you should be shopping on a familiar computer so you know that all the virus/spyware definitions are up-to-date.

Make sure you're on a legitimate site
. Everything linked to on Savings.com is legit so you're gold, but generally, don't go by appearances alone.  A site can look like the real thing and really just be a phishing site to get your credit card or social security number.  Scroll over the link.  If it's Kmart.com, you're fine.  But if it's something like Kmartstore.com (which doesn't exist), or it's a little off, you may be on a fraudulent website.

Shop on familiar sites.  Generally, even small-fry sites are more secure than they used to be, with secure transaction protocols like VeriSign.  If you're still nervous, however, go with a big brand site.  Again, Savings can be helpful in this regard because sites here are verified. Some scammers might set up a dummy site and send out spam about that site to unsuspecting buyers.  That won't happen if you click through from here.  Check with the Better Business Bureau if you're concerned and the site looks a little dubious. 

These are good general guidelines, but generally you don't have to worry too much.  Of all these, spyware might be the most malicious, because that can steal your information without you knowing it.  But the likelihood that your credit card information is going to get stolen in transit without spyware or malware is not high.  Sites are secure as a matter of course because site owners can't afford to not be secure: they want your business. So be a little vigilant, and most importantly, have fun!

Any other safe shopping tips out there?  Let us know how you protect yourself from online identity theft in the comments.