10 Tips to Avoid Getting Burned

You need to buy gifts for the holidays and you need to purchase them quickly. You can either brave the madness of shopping at your local mall or kick back at home and buy all your gifts online. Doing your holiday shopping online can be a great way to save time while you find the right gifts at the best price. You’ll skip the parking lot wars, avoid getting the flu from your fellow shoppers, and stay out of pick-pockets’ crosshairs. But though it may be easy and convenient to shop in your pajamas, you still need to take precautions to make sure your electronic ‘purse strings’ are safe and secure. Here are some simple tips for safe online shopping:

Secure your computer. Make sure your home computer has updated security software installed, and run regular system check to keep hackers’ keylogging viruses away.

ONLY shop from home. Don’t do your online shopping from the local cafĂ©, the airport or other public places. These open networks are easier targets for identity thieves to hack into your computer. Only shop from your secured home network.

Click carefully. Your favorite store just sent you a great coupon! But wait! Before you click on email links, be sure of where they lead. Scam emails can look just like the real ones from your favorite stores, with links that appear to take you to legitimate sites. But hover over the link and you may see a different web address – this could be a fake site, designed to gather your credit card information for fraud. Your safest bet is to manually navigate to your favorite retailer’s website.

Know thy merchant. One of best parts of online shopping is easily comparing prices to find a great deal. You may find the gift you want for half the price – but make sure the merchant is reputable and trustworthy. If you haven’t done business with a merchant before, look for online reviews. Using aggregators like Amazon.com and Yahoo Shopping is another good way to make sure your merchant doesn’t take you for a fraudulent sleigh ride.

Lock down your site. When you visit a retailer’s website, look for “https” at the beginning of the URL. This “s” – along with a small gold lock in the lower-right corner of your browser – indicates an extra level of security for your online shopping.

Log out. Always logout securely when leaving a website.

Check if your payment details are stored. Some online shopping sites ask if you want to store your payment details for future purchases. It’s always handy to have your information stored, especially if you use that site often. But, watch out for this on lesser-known websites.

Compare ‘real’ prices. Make sure you know how much you will be charged for shipping, and if there are any taxes or fees that will be added to your online purchase. These ‘extras’ can add up quickly, so be sure you include them when comparison shopping. Many retailers offer free shipping around the holidays, and others allow free in-store pick-up of your online purchases – easy ways to add extra savings to your holiday shopping.

Know the Return Policy. Read the merchant’s return policy before making your purchase. One of the downsides of online shopping is the inability to ‘try it on’ or see the item before purchasing, so make sure your merchant offers you an easy way to return/refund your purchase if it’s not what you expected.

Choose Credit – not Debit. If possible, use a credit card to pay for online purchases. Federal law limits your liability to $50 in the event of fraud. Better yet, many credit card companies will waive this liability, and offer advanced fraud protection and detection programs to keep you safe.

Keep an eye out. If you are doing a lot of online shopping, make sure to check your account and credit card statements regularly to verify all charges. If you have questions about a transaction or suspect fraud, call your financial institution immediately.

Save your Receipts! Just as with in-store shopping, you’ll want to save all your receipts from online shopping. You may choose to save emailed receipts on your computer, or print them out and file with other receipts.