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By Allison Videtti
I love mostly everything about the holidays. The one thing I’m not too fond of? Setting foot in (or anywhere near, for that matter) a mall between Halloween and New Year’s Day. Between the crowds and the traffic, I’d much prefer to stay out of brick-and-mortar stores and instead do my holiday shopping online, from the comfort of my couch.
Though it’s convenient, online holiday shopping isn’t without its headaches. Just as thieves take advantage of crowded stores to steal wallets, scammers and hackers use this time of year to take advantage of online shoppers, too.
To stay safe while snagging that cozy pair of PJ’s for grandma, keep these tips in mind:
Make sure your computer is protected. Strong anti-virus software is a must-have this season (and every season, for that matter). Anti-virus software protects your computer from viruses, and can detect and remove them if they do make it onto your computer. But that’s not all you need: Be sure to regularly install your computer’s updates, and run virus scans regularly to be sure there’s nothing infecting your computer.
A Google search for “affordable winter boots” brings up a host of well-known retailers, but other results are a little sketchy. If you’ve never heard of the retailer before, the deals seem too good to be true or the website is poor quality, be wary. It could be a scam site that’s just after your personal information.
Be careful about clicking on links to websites from emails, too. Scammers will often send phishing emails that appear to be from well-known retailers and include a link to a too-good-to-be-true holiday offer. If you click on the link, it goes to a scam site or downloads malware onto your computer. Look for misspellings in the email, a tone that’s not consistent with what you’ve received before or anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re still not sure, hover over the link before you click on it. If the URL doesn’t match the URL of the retailer’s website, it’s probably a scam.
Before you hand over your credit card information to a retailer, verify that the checkout is secure. A URL that begins with https:// means the site is using an SSL certificate, which secures all of your data as it passes from the website to the server and keeps it safe from hackers. To get an SSL certificate, a company must go through a validation process.
However, there are different levels of security. The highest level is Extended Validation (EV), which means the company has proved not only its identity but also its legitimacy as a business. You know a site has an EV certificate if the search bar (or part of the search bar, depending on your browser) turns green and displays a lock icon, like the example below:
If the worst-case scenario plays out and a hacker does get a hold of your payment information, you’re better off having used a credit card than a debit card. If a thief gets your credit card info, he or she can rack up charges – but won’t drain your bank account. With an Alliant Visa® Credit or Debit Card, you’re protected by Visa’s Zero Liability policy, which means you’re not liable for fraudulent charges*.
You can also use Visa Checkout**, if the retailer provides it. If you’ve set up your account (you can do so by visiting the Visa Checkout site and clicking “Create Account”), simply click the Visa Checkout button and type in your username and password. Visa will send a payment code to the retailer, instead of sending your credit card number.
Be on the lookout for phishy (get it?) confirmation scams this holiday season. These emails, which appear to come from retailers like Target, Walmart and Home Depot, are actually the work of scammers. They typically reference an order – which may or may not be real – and include a link. If you click on the link, you’ll download malware onto your computer that would harvest all of your usernames and passwords, and send junk email from your machine.
If you get a confirmation email for an order you didn’t place, don’t click on any links. If the email seems legit, write down the order number, go to the website, and track the order directly on the site vs. clicking on the link. It’s an extra step that could save you some serious headaches.
Though scammers love to take advantage of shoppers during the holidays, don’t let them turn you into a Grinch. Be savvy, trust your gut if a site seems suspicious and do a little research before you shop with a retailer you’ve never used before. Check out the Better Business Bureau (BBB) ratings or simply do a Google search to see if any reviews come up. As long as you’re careful, there’s no reason you can’t safely tuck into some online shopping deals this year.
Allison Videtti is a digital marketing manager at Alliant. In her previous life, she worked in real estate and held multiple positions at a Chicago-based digital marketing agency, overseeing content strategy for a number of financial services clients. Allison's always been a saver and is something of a personal finance junkie. She loves reviewing her spending and updating her budget, and can't get enough of finance-related blogs and podcasts. Her favorites? Wisebread.com and the Planet Money podcast.
* Visa’s Zero Liability policy covers U.S.-issued cards only and does not apply to ATM transactions, PIN transactions not processed by Visa, or certain commercial card transactions. Cardholder must notify issuer promptly of any unauthorized use. For more information, visit http://usa.visa.com/personal/security/visa_security_program/zero_liability.html
** Visa Checkout is operated by Visa U.S.A. Inc. and its affiliates.