Keep Your Online Shopping Merry and Bright (and Fraud-Free)
Deck the halls, bake the cookies, wrap the presents… and make sure no one stole your credit card number while you weren’t looking. (Why this isn’t a full line of Hallmark cards, I have no idea.)
Listen, I love this time of year for all sorts of reasons, but I do not love the increased chance of being taken advantage of while I’m shopping, so I thought I’d share a few quick tips to hopefully help out others as we count down the final days of gift-buying frenzy and then—if you’re like me—the post-holiday clearance shopping. We all know to keep an eye on our packages at the mall, keep our purses zipped, etc., but there are all sorts of online fraud methods we maybe forget about until a conniving thief reminds us in the most unpleasant of ways. So! Take a few minutes, here, and you can thank me later.
1. Use strong passwords, and different ones, everywhere
The first part is obvious, I know, but perhaps you have an account somewhere that you’ve had forever, like, since back before online fraud was such a big thing, and maybe it hasn’t occurred to you to change it. Do. Do it now, before you forget. The second part—different passwords—is something a lot of us get lazy about. Don’t, because it means one hacked account can become multiple hacked accounts. Use a password generator/manager, if you like (I use LastPass Free, but there are lots of options out there), but make all of your passwords hard to crack. That includes the password on the email account you use for all of your online shopping, by the way. Some thieves are perfectly happy to also hack your email and delete their purchase confirmation!
2. Use a separate email address for shopping, and check it regularly
I’ve been using a “junk” email address for my online purchases for forever, and the truth is that I often get lazy and don’t look at that account unless I’m searching for something specific. Be ye not so stupid. Check your “shopping email” every day during this season, because it may be your first line of defense against fraudulent purchases. I discovered only this morning that my Kohls account had been hacked, and if I’d been checking my shopping email, I would’ve known a month ago. Shame on me.
3. Use two-factor authentication and/or mobile alerts
Not all online outlets have this, but wherever you can make it harder to place an order and/or get an alert right to your phone any time you buy something, do it. Yes, it’s annoying and repetitive when it’s just you (“Thanks, yes, I know I just placed an order because I just placed an order“), but it could help you catch unauthorized activity as soon as it happens.
4. Use credit, not debit, cards online
I know a lot of people are categorically opposed to credit cards. My feeling is that if you use a credit card exactly as you would a debit card—that is, you never buy anything for which you do not have the funds immediately available to cover, and never ever ever carry a balance—you enjoy greater purchase protection and can also earn various rewards. (For example: you can’t use the “good” coupons at Kohls unless you have their store card, and because I use my Discover card nearly everywhere, I earn a ton of cash back each year.) Best of all, though, is that, while both banks and credit cards offer fraud protection, if someone manages to use your debit card online, that money is removed from your account immediately and it may take time to get it back. If your credit card is utilized fraudulently, you are never held liable for that payment.
5. Close accounts you no longer use
Once upon a time when I was struggling financially I used to shop at Walmart on the regular. These days I don’t, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when someone hacked into my (defunct) online account with them that it occurred to me I should delete that account entirely. The same goes for store credit cards you don’t really need or use (which, incidentally, is better for your credit rating, anyway). Thieves love abandoned accounts.
If you do find yourself the victim of online fraud, don’t panic! Most of the time your credit card or the company in question will catch suspicious activity even before you do, but if they don’t, they will still be ready and willing to help you straighten out whatever’s happened. It’s frustrating and annoying and you may even feel angry and violated—it’s all valid, because no one likes being stolen from, which is what this is—but stay calm and let the folks in place to work on this sort of stuff do their magic. Don’t take your unpleasant emotions out on the folks trying to help, no matter how upset you are. It’s not fair to them and it just makes the already laborious process of recovering from something like this even worse. Almost everything in life can be improved by being kind and grateful in your behavior toward others, and this is no exception.
Happy holiday shopping, and stay careful out there.
Photo source: Depositphotos/ Simplephoto
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