Many consumers will be visiting online retailers in search of great bargains this holiday season.
Shopping online can be fast and convenient, and can provide shoppers the opportunity to find the best deals without leaving the comfort of home. Unfortunately, the Internet can also provide plenty of opportunities for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers.
The following are some tips for avoiding fraud while shopping online:
Use Familiar Websites: If possible, try to stick with a known reputable company that you or your friends and family have done business with in the past. Before making a purchase, verify the return policy of the item you're interested in and if there's any additional fees, such as restocking or return shipping.
When in Doubt, Check Them Out: When shopping online through an unfamiliar merchant, it is important to verify that the merchant is indeed authentic. Websites such as Epinions.com and Bizrate.com have customer evaluations which can help you determine if a business is legitimate. If you Google the name of the business, followed by the word "scam," you'll often find complaints that will alert you to the likelihood of fraud.
Choose Credit Over Debit: Most credit cards have protection on them and are considered the safest method for online purchases. Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit cards is $50. On the other hand, if you pay with a debit card and someone else gains access to your card number for purposes of fraud, you must report with loss within two business days to ensure that you will be responsible for no more than $50 of unauthorized use. However, if you don't report the loss within two business days after you discover the loss, you could lose up to $500 because of an unauthorized transfer. You also risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you.
Avoid Public Computers: If you plan on doing any shopping online, it's best to use your home computer or that of someone you trust. If you use a computer at a library, cyber café or other public location to do your shopping, you have no control over who else may be using that same computer. If you have no other option than to use a public computer, make sure to log out of each online retailer's webpage once you've completed your transaction and any other open sessions that transmit personal information, even if you are just checking your email.
Look for the Security Lock: Checking for security credentials on a website is important in maintaining the integrity of your personal information. Never purchase anything or reveal personal information online from a website that does not have secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption installed. A website has SSL when the web address for the website starts with "https" instead of just "http." On a secure website, you will also see an icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of your web browser or right next to the URL in the address bar. Scammers frequently try to impersonate legitimate websites with similar URLs or design elements in an attempt to trick the consumer into revealing personal financial information.
Information provided by Florida's Division of Consumer Services.