The internet is a jungle full of predators, and your credit is their prey. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, most cybercrimes committed in 2017 were related to internet shopping. A record 15 million people were victimized by identity fraudsters in 2016. This surge was impelled by a 40% increase in card-not-present fraud. Criminal hackers are becoming alarmingly adept at snagging your 16-digit card number as it flies through cyberspace.
Here are 12 effective ways to protect yourself and your money when you’re shopping online:
- Credit cards provide a lot more protection than do debit cards. The reason is simple. When you use a debit card to make an online purchase, it’s your money that’s at risk. When an Internet predator defrauds you via a credit card, the Fair Credit Billing Act assures that you’re only responsible for the first $50, and some card issuers even protect you from the first lost dollar.
- Make sure that the address of the website with which you are doing business starts with “https://”, rather than “http://”. The “s” stands for “secure sockets layer”. It means that your transaction is being processed through an encryption system that scrambles your information. The presence of that “s” isn’t a guarantee of complete security, but it does provide an additional level of confidence. Look for the SSL icon of a locked padlock, usually to the left of the URL in the address bar, or on the status bar below.
- Don’t do your online shopping in public. Any hacker near you can intercept unencrypted data as it enters or leaves your computer. You could be making your personal information available to a lurking identity thief.
- Don’t email your credit card numbers. Hackers have developed systems that scan for 16-digit number strings that are likely to be credit card numbers. It’s not unusual for businesses, especially hotels and vacation rental entities, to ask for your credit card as a deposit. If possible, try to find an alternative.
- Do your internet shopping at well-known sites that have earned trust over time. Look out for disguised sites that use misspellings of the name of a reputable site, or use an alternative domain (.net instead of.com, for example).
- Be stingy with your information. No online shopping site needs your Social Security number or your birth date in order to complete a transaction.
- Immunize your browser. Install a strong antivirus program. Even better, obtain a security suite which, in addition to its antivirus activity, will combat spam, spear phishing emails, and phishing attacks from alien websites. And keep your anti-malware in fighting trim through constant updating.
- Use powerful passwords. Employ a smorgasbord of numbers and letters, mixing both upper and lowercase characters. Use at least one symbol, like @, &, or $. Make your password completely idiosyncratic. And don’t use the same password for multiple purposes. Even better than all the foregoing, use a password manager. It will not only create virtually uncrackable passwords, it will also enter your passwords, providing convenience as well as safety.
- If you receive a promotional email with a link to a website, don’t use that link to reply. Far too often, links provided in an email lead to a fraudulent site. Use your browser to navigate to the site, even if that necessitates a Google search.
- Regularly check your accounts. Don’t wait for your monthly statements to look for unauthorized purchases. Instead, frequently log in to the online statements for your credit cards, debit cards, and checking accounts.
- Forget your card, use your phone. The number of sites that transact sales via a mobile payment app, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, is increasing. These apps generate a one-time-only authentication code that’s impossible to steal.
- Finally, do your best to ensure that you’re dealing with a reputable entity. The Better Business Bureau provides an online scam tracker. Check with Yelp and Google for retailer reviews but remember that reviews can be rigged. If all the reviews are raves, be wary.
And always make sure that you have both a street address and a working phone number for your transaction partner. It’s a good idea to try that phone number before you place your order, so you can verify the return policy, and learn how issues that arise after the purchase will be handled.
At Sobul, Primes & Schenkel, we pride ourselves on delivering the very highest standard, competency and professionalism to our clients. Our firm offers a greater level of personal service than any other Los Angeles or national firm. SPS has been freeing our clients to pursue their passions since 1981.
For more information about SPSCPA, simply click here to schedule a consultation or call us at 310-826-2060.