Shop Safe

Protect your money, and identity, with a few simple tips

With the holiday bustle, who doesn’t want to find the easiest way to fill the space beneath the Christmas tree? It’s the season when stores offer up some of the best deals of the year — and broadband Internet can make shopping a breeze.

Online stores such as Amazon put buying a gift one simple click away. And people love it. In fact, last year e-commerce sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving — known as Cyber Monday — topped $2 billion.
But shopping online is not without risk. Follow a few simple guidelines to make shopping, whether online or in person, during the busy holiday season a hassle-free experience.

Avoid paying with debit cards

Credit card companies generally have policies in place to protect you from paying for something you didn’t buy. However, a debit card linked directly to a checking account makes it much harder to get your money back. So, consider using a credit card as the better payment option. Also, be sure to check your account balance often. Catching a fraudulent charge early makes it easier to resolve.

Purchase from retailers you know and trust

While there are countless retailers on the Web, the safest bet is to buy from companies with which you are already familiar or already do business. Most well-known major online stores are safe. Remember, never respond to an email or follow a link to a site seeking your personal information.

Use a separate email account for online shopping

Consider setting up a separate email address just for signing up to websites or when shopping online. That way, your work and personal inboxes won’t fill up nearly as fast with ads, coupons and offers. But, you will still have access to these promotions if you want them in your “shopping” email account.

Use caution when accessing free Wi-Fi in public

Hackers and identity thieves sometimes target connections in airports, malls and coffee shops. They hope to snoop on people who check bank accounts, enter credit card information or conduct similar transactions. Please understand, it’s fine to choose public Wi-Fi for casual use, but avoid making transactions or logging into personal accounts on this type of connection.

Travel with the essentials

When shopping, take only what you need. If you don’t plan to use specific credit cards or store credit cards, leave them at home. One card, a driver’s license and an auto insurance card can often be enough for a shopping trip. That way, a lost wallet or purse only requires you to call one or two companies to cancel accounts.

Yes, shopping online has its risks — but so does shopping in a crowded mall. Regardless of how you prepare for the holidays, know the risks, limit your exposure and monitor your accounts.