Tips for ensuring your safety while online shopping
The holiday season is among us and with COVID-19 rates increasing, more and more people are turning to online shopping. That also means that more and more cyber fraud is occurring as hackers take advantage of increased online sales.
As early as April of 2020, the FTC had already reported that over 18,000 fraud reports had been received that were connected to COVID-related scams, including online shopping. By August, that number grew to 175,000 reports and $16 million dollars lost via online shopping alone. In November, the FTC reported that fake Clorox and Lysol websites were created to specifically target items that shoppers need most.
“These are scams that trick people into ordering products like masks, hand sanitizer, and other high-demand items that never arrive,” reports the FTC. “People are also reporting scam text messages related to bogus offers to earn income, phony economic relief programs, fake charities, and government imposters.”
Because of this, ensuring security strategies are in place is especially important when shopping online. Basic strategies include having security software that actively looks for viruses and malware, avoiding public WiFi, and having strong, secure passwords.
Another method that may improve security while shopping online is utilizing a VPN. VPNs add additional encryption and keep your IP address and location private.
The FTC also recommends doing a check on products or sellers online prior to purchasing to verify that both the seller and item are legitimate. Also verify any refund policies prior to purchase if you anticipate the possibility of returning the product.
Using a credit card for purchases adds extra protections, including the ability to dispute charges via the Fair Credit Billing Act. It’s important to hold on to records of online purchases and verify that the purchase amount charged to your card matches the records received and purchase price.
During the holiday season, it’s also important to pay attention to which charities are requesting donations to ensure that the organizations are both legitimate and putting your money to use efficiently.
The FCC has issued guidance to ensure your donations are doing the most good. The four primary tips for donations are:
- Search for the charity or cause online along with phrases like “highly rated” or “scam”. These additional key words can help identify organizations that are not legitimate.
- Visit the charity’s website to see how they use the donations they receive.
- Use sites like Charity Navigator for specific information on what portions of donations are spent on actual services compare to those spent on overhead and administrative items.
- Verify what your state’s Charity Official says about the organization.
If you do encounter any issues when shopping online, the FTC recommends reporting your concerns immediately. Complaints can be filed at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.
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