If you’re like most savvy shoppers, you’re buying lots of gifts and other items online for the holidays. While that can be a great way to nab some bargains, be careful that you don’t also nab the attention of identity thieves.
Some easy ways to protect yourself from identity theft while shopping online:
Know your seller. Whenever possible, shop with reputable online merchants. If you’re shopping via sites that run private auctions, like eBay, or companies that link you to private sellers, such as Amazon.com, check the sellers’ sales ratings carefully. If possible, work with sellers who’ve done thousands of sales and who have positive transaction ratings of 99 percent or above. You should also consider whether to buy from U.S. sellers orinternationally because your legal rights may change if the merchant is outside the country.
Secure your connection. Reputable online merchants transfer you to a secure or encrypted portion of their site when it’s time to pay. That extra layer of security ensures that only you and the company you’re paying can see your credit card information. Secure sites are indicated by an image of a lock in your browser window, an address that starts with “https” (instead of just http), the wording “Secure Socket Layer” (SSL), or a pop-up box that says you’re entering a secure portion of the website.
Pay by credit card. It’s usually the most secure form of payment (versus debit cards, checks, or cashier’s checks) because you have greater protection if the merchant doesn’t deliver as promised. U.S. law limits your out-of-pocket liability to just $50 for unauthorized charges. Many card issuers will even cover that first $50 for you and some offer “zero liability” on unauthorized charges or billing errors.
Use a dedicated credit card for online buying. It’s easier to keep track of charges and possible errors or identity theft. Also, ask your credit card company if it offers “virtual credit cards” for online shopping. With these cards, the card number changes for each transaction to make it hard for identity thieves to capture and reuse it. However, every charge is still applied to your umbrella credit card account.
Skip the convenience. Don’t let merchants store your credit card information online. Sites where you shop regularly often give you this option. But if in doubt, go old school and just type in your card number every time.
Guard your online passwords. Identity thieves can crack your personal passwords and gain access to your online accounts—particularly dangerous if you let online retailers store your credit card number (see above). Stay away from easy-to-crack passwords that include your birth date, address, or phone number. Include upper and lower case numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks in your online passwords, and change them periodically to prevent hacking.
Dispute fraudulent charges right away. Whenever you see a charge that isn’t yours—no matter how small—let your credit card company know right away. It will close your account and issue you a new card to prevent further identity/payment theft.
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