Don't Get Ripped Off Online

Here are 13 tips for avoiding the scammers, spammers and sharks that can ruin your credit, and your holidays.

"Psst. Hey buddy. Got a second? Wanna buy a watch?"

The days of the seedy guy selling stolen goods in the shadows have been replaced by web saavy scammers who are out to grab something more important than a quick infusion of cash -- they want your identity.

The problem has become pervasive as people finally move away from brick and mortar shopping to online stores. So much so that a cottage industry has sprung up to offer protection from these scams.

For instance, the company IDentity Theft 911 offers these tips to help protect shoppers from online hustlers who are out in force for the holidays. 

  • Shop on secure sites. Look for “https” in the address bar and a yellow padlock logo to the right of the Web browser address bar. Double-click on the lock to see a digital certificate of the website. Review these certificates on unfamiliar sites.
  • Make sure you are entering correct URLs. Hackers often buy misspelled domains to trick people into entering personal information.
  • Never enter your Social Security number or passwords to e-mail and bank accounts as part of the buying process with online retailers.
  • Use a different password for each online retailer, personal e-mail account and banks account you have. That way, if a hacker cracks one password, he or she won’t have access to others.
  • Read reviews of a site before making any purchases from it. For example, Pricegrabber.com compares prices and users’ comments for retail websites, and Google Product Search, slickdeals.net and dealews.com monitor retailers, site performance, possible issues and deals.
  • Never save personal information on an online retail website. Retailers will offer convenience and better deals, but many customer databases are breached by identity thieves. It’s not worth the risk.
  • Read a website's return and privacy policies before making purchases. If there’s any doubt about fairness, find another site.
  • Be aware of phishing email scams that include website links advertising incredible deals. Don’t click on them. Instead, type the link directly into your browser.
  • Use credit cards, not debit cards. Try to use credit cards with low limits to minimize the damage if a thief takes over the account. Or, use a “one-time” credit card number from a payment processor such as PayPal.
  • Never send payment information via regular e-mail. It’s not secure. Make sure all personal information transactions are done on a secure site.
  • Uncheck boxes advertising "additional offers." These services are sometimes offered for a low initial fee that later increases to a high, recurring charge on your credit card. Also, they’ll give your contact information to spammers.
  • Make sure mobile phones used for shopping are secured. Back them up regularly and enable security features such as power-on passwords and inactivity time locks. Learn how to clear browser caches and, if available, enable data encryption and antivirus applications.
  • As always, install and update antivirus, antimalware and firewall software on your computer. Update its operating system and Internet browser with the latest security patches.


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