Adapted from MU Office for Financial Success Finance Tip of the Week blog post by Ryan H. Law, M.S., CFP®, AFC, former Office for Financial Success Director, University of Missouri
Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but many people will continue with their holiday shopping both in stores and online. In either setting, it is important to make sure that you are shopping safely and protecting your private information. You should also be familiar with store information and store policies so that you know who to contact and how an issue or return can be resolved, if necessary.
Here are five additional tips specifically for shopping safely online:
- Be sure the website’s purchase page is secure. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the site is secure or not, but be sure the page where you enter your credit card information is secure. Here’s how you can tell: the browser should say “https” instead of “http” and you should see a lock icon somewhere on the page. Here is what the Amazon.com sales page looks like:
You can see both the https and the lock icon, which means it is a secure page.
- Don’t purchase items from emails unless you can verify where they came from. You may get deals in your inbox from Walmart, Target, Amazon and many other reputable companies. Email marketing is cheap and effective. When you hover over the links in the emails from reputable stores, you can see that the link goes back to the company website. However, you may also get emails that say nothing more than this, for example:
“Get the New 32GB iPad Sold for $31.08!”
When you get this type of email and you don’t recognize the sender or the store name, you should be suspicious. Do NOT click any links within such an email, including the “unsubscribe” link! Just delete these emails immediately. They are spam and many have some kind of virus. If you don’t click on the links, you will be safe.
- Use your credit card to make purchases online. Never trust a website that doesn’t accept credit cards or that encourages you to pay using Western Union or something like that. Your credit card has built-in protection, as do websites like PayPal. If you never receive the item, you can file a dispute and your credit card company won’t charge you for the item.
- Do not save or store your credit card information on the website, even if it is a reputable company. Here is a personal anecdote from when I almost learned this the hard way. I got an email saying that my purchase of two Nexus 7 tablets being sent to California from Walmart had been cancelled because they couldn’t verify the shipping address. Concerned, I logged into my Walmart.com account and sure enough, there was an order that I hadn’t placed for two Nexus 7 tablets that were scheduled to be sent to some random address in California. After doing some research I found that this isn’t uncommon — hackers get into the databases of these websites and can try to order things using your account, which only works if your credit card is stored on the website. Walmart.com, for example, stores your card information without asking if you want it stored — they do it automatically.
I immediately changed my password and deleted my credit card information from their system. I no longer store credit card information on any websites. It only takes a minute to enter the card number and I feel more secure that way. Now, each time I make purchase on Walmart.com, I immediately go to my account and delete the credit card number.
- Consider purchasing pre-paid shopping cards to make purchases online. Some people don’t like to use their personal credit card online, so they purchase pre-paid shopping cards and use that for all of their holiday shopping. A bonus is that you can set your limit and not spend any more than that.
Shopping online can be easy and convenient and can be a good way to get great deals. If you follow today’s tips, you can shop online with confidence.
photo credit – Daniel Foster