Sense & Centsibility Blog
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Twelve Tips for Safe Online Shopping

We’re in the thick of the holiday shopping season, and like many other Americans, you might be increasing your online purchases because of COVID-19. I’m sure you were already bombarded with Black Friday specials and Cyber Monday savings. This flood of information, along with the usual stress in getting ready for the holidays, can be overwhelming. When we’re overwhelmed, we can let our guard down against scams. It’s more important than ever to practice safe online shopping.

Here are twelve tips that can help you avoid getting scammed. Since this is a time when turkey is often the main course at holiday celebrations, I’ll call them “giblets of information.”

  1. Don’t trust deals you get in emails, especially if they sound too good to be true. Go directly to a trusted company website without clinking links. Be sure the beginning of the web address says “https,” not just “http.” The “s” stands for “secure.”
  2. Don’t use your debit card. It’s better to use sites that accept PayPal than to type your credit card information into a screen. Another option is to get a prepaid card at the store and shop with that.
  3. When you do make an online payment, look for both “https” (see #1 above) AND a lock symbol to the left of the website address, which means it’s secure.
  4. No shopping site will ever ask you for your Social Security Number. Never give out that information when you’re shopping.
  5. Never, ever trust Facebook or social media ads. There are way too many scams on social media.
  6. Never do a random survey.
  7. Don’t click those links in emails. At home, simply clicking a link can cause a program to be installed on your computer. These programs can steal your information and your passwords.
  8. It’s generally not a good idea to click the “Unsubscribe” link in emails. Doing this merely tells unscrupulous spammers that your email account is live, which typically results in you getting more spam. Depending on your email system, there are ways to mark emails as junk or spam. AARP has a great article on the safe use of the “Unsubscribe” link or button.
  9. Change your password, and don’t use the same password for multiple sites. If you use the same password for banking, work and a shopping site, you are asking for trouble.
  10. Check your credit card statements. Check your credit card statements. Check your credit card statements. If you think I believe it’s really important to look for credit card errors and charges you don’t recognize, you’ve guessed correctly.
  11. Only use gift cards for presents, not as payments. Scammers love trying to get people to buy gift cards, scratch the codes and send them the information.
  12. As you surf the web looking for deals, be aware of a page that might display on your computer saying that you have a virus. It’s a scam; your computer doesn’t have a virus.

Pass along these tips to your family and friends this holiday season. I’m sure you can think of more; share those, too! Safe online shopping advice is a gift that everyone can use.

If you want other advice on protecting yourself from scams, or if you want to take more control of your finances during the holidays and into the new year, LSS Financial Counseling can help.  Call us at 888.577.2227 to set up a free, confidential appointment. You can also get all your support online.

Author Mike Bohlken is the Senior Director of Information Technologies at Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota.