Online Shopping Safety Guide

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Ah, Cyber Monday. The day came and went with announcements of deals, offers and amazing finds all over my Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus streams. Where to start? Who to trust? How to find the best deals?

The truth is, online shopping has become a favorite method for most of us as it provides the conveniences of shopping from the comfort of our home and helps us avoid lines and compare prices all with the simple click of our mouse. But this cyber shopping season is also popular among cyber criminals, who are just as aggressive with luring “customers” as online retailers are.

This month as part of the Trendmicro Digital Joneses challenge, I set out to break all the rules, well, at least some of them, and ventured out of my online comfort zone on one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.

I clicked and clicked on pretty much every and any link that I never heard of (fear not, my system is protected by the Trendmicro Antivirus Software which immediately warns me of dangerous sites and links), and maybe for this reason, I didn’t really have too much trouble with the sites that I did find.

But, in searching for travel deals, some of the stuff I did find on some of these lesser known sites was enough to make me want to take pause. Sites with pop-up windows immediately asking me for my name and email were definitely not my favorite. I get enough junk mail as it is.

Other sites offered me that chance for even more savings if I invited my friends. Hmmm. Let’s see. Spam my friends with information on a site I haven’t even tried yet, but could potentially save me money if I do so. Riiight.

It didn’t take me long to give up on this challenge. So many websites offering so many different things, some of them requesting information I didn’t feel comfortable in providing and many of them requiring extra research on my part to find out if they were legit and safe. It all started to feel as stressful as venturing into the crowds and lines at a big box store.

Instead, I took a break from my computer, then came back only to research the hours of some of my favorite mom and pops located in the village of my New Jersey neighborhood, got in my car and shopped there. They also have online options, and though they may not be as familiar to most as the big box stores, because they are places I trust, and I also tend to use credit card that offer additional protection against theft, I would’ve felt just as confident going that route as well.

That’s not to say that online shopping can’t be wonderful, but the tips from TrendMicro’s Cyber Monday Safety Guide could really help make the online shopping process easier, no matter what time of year:

1. Buyer Beware: Never use a payment method that does not offer any kind of buyer protection. Wire transfers and money orders are therefore off the table as there is no way of getting your money back. Pay with a credit card as it offers better protection.

2. Credit is Best: Paying by credit card online is fast and safe. Credit card companies are working hard to protect their customers from fraud. Most cardholder agreements limit your liability for fraudulent charges to $50. Another advantage is that you can dispute the charge if there’s a problem, such as if the merchandise doesn’t arrive, doesn’t work, isn’t what you expected, or if you returned it and didn’t get your refund.

3. Do the Bait and Switch: Create a temporary email account when registering with a web service and then forward emails from there to your primary account. Email addresses are golden to malicious hackers because they offer nearly unfettered access to your attention.

4. Be Selective with Your Personal Information: In addition to your credit card number and email address, web services may require – or at least request – other personal information. Unless the company will be shipping something to you, there’s no need to give out your street or mailing address.

5. Never Pay Cash: Most online merchants do not accept cash and you shouldn’t pay with cash anyway. Cash is easily lost or stolen, and you have no way of proving how much you sent if the total doesn’t arrive.

6. Never Use Debit: While most online payments are processed without a problem, if yours happens to be the exception, using a debit card could give a hacker or scammer access to your entire bank account. While debit cards do offer some security and fraud reimbursement programs, most debit cards do not offer the same level of protection as a credit card.

7. Double, Triple Confirm: Only fill out required fields on checkout forms. Check the website’s privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.


Disclosure: As part of my agreement to participate in the Digital Joneses Project, Trend Micro has provided me with technology, software and other items for use in the various challenges and/or for review. No request that I express any particular point of view or specific editorial requirements to be included in my reviews were made. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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