The holiday season is a time for online shopping and cheating. Ken Colburn of the Data Doctors explains how to protect yourself.
Q: What are the latest online shopping safety tips?
A: The holiday season always drives online purchase volume to the highest levels of the year, which also means that even those with malicious intent are stepping up their tactics.
Elaborate phishing scams
One of the more sophisticated scams involves having a fully functional website that looks like it is selling popular and hard-to-get items at cheap prices.
Creating a fake shopping website that looks exactly like a popular retailer’s website is pretty easy, so you can’t always believe what you see.
The creators will then use social media and web commentary to link to these “amazing deal websites” in order to catch unsuspecting bargain buyers.
Take a close look at the entire web address, because fake sites often use sophisticated tricks to hide the fact that you are not on the actual dealer site.
Consider installing a free web browser extension like Trend Micro Check that will actively scan every link displayed to alert you if something is suspicious.
Retailer apps are more secure
Fake shopping sites target those who use a web browser to make their purchases. An easy way to avoid getting tricked is to make all of your purchases through popular retailers’ mobile apps.
As long as you visit the official app store for your device and download the app yourself, it is the safest way to shop online.
Clever email scam
Another scam consists of email messages that appear to be from a popular retailer with a tracking number or attachment claiming to be your tracking information.
Always write down your tracking number when you make your first purchase so you can manually go to the shipping company’s website to track your purchases.
If you forgot to write it down, sign in to your account to get the tracking number from your purchase history instead of clicking a link in an email message.
Also, watch out for emails purporting to be from the “Fraud Department” asking you to confirm a purchase. Never interact with any links or phone numbers in the message; Go to the merchant’s website or app and log into your account to check everything.
Get burner accounts
A side effect of the online shopping season is that your email address and phone number will be added to additional marketing databases.
Setting up a dedicated Gmail account just for all of your shopping activities will keep the extra junk from hitting your personal account. If it gets overfilled with junk, just stop using it.
You can do the same to protect your cell phone number by signing up for a free Google Voice number that works through an app on your smartphone.
All text messages and calls that go to your “burner” number are displayed via the app on your smartphone without ever revealing your real number to the marketing world.
Never use a debit card
If you fall for a scam and used your debit card to make a purchase, the money will come straight from your checking account.
Debit card fraud protection generally works the same as credit cards, but while you’re trying to fix things, the lack of money can keep you from making mortgage, rental, or car payments.
Ken Colburn is the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask technical questions on Facebook or Twitter.