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Today is the 16th of December. I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet, at least not more than an impulse item or two that I’ve picked up here and there.

In this modern age, I’ve become spoiled with Amazon Prime and other online retailers that make it simple to get what you want when you want it. Here I am, nine days before Christmas, and I’m not sweating a thing.

Sure, online retailers make our lives simpler. Quick shipping, transparent pricing, easy-to-compare consumer sites; you don’t even need pants to finish your Christmas shopping anymore. However, this time of year brings far more opportunities for the devious side of the internet to take advantage of the fast-paced, quick-to-buy consumer.

According to Rurik Bradbury with Trustev, 40 percent of online scams show up during the last quarter of the year, and this makes sense. We’re in a rush to get that special gift before it’s sold out. Sometimes, we even see an advertisement for something we thought was a lost cause and rush to purchase that rare item. Cookies on your computer tell retailers what you’ve been putting on your internet Christmas list, and ads show up in social media and other websites as well.

As you dig in on the online shopping scene, there are some precautions and common sense tactics you can take to better protect yourself (and your money!) this Christmas season.

How hard is it to scam someone? Criminals take a lot of routes, from fake emails and ads that look legit to copycat URLs and so on. Here are some tips to help you stay safe!

Dodge the copycats. Chances are you’re familiar with the branding of your favorite products and websites. Well, scammers are, too, and they will use that casual familiarity to fool you into clicking bad links. What happens, in the end, is they install malware or keyloggers on your computer, steal your credit card number or phish for personal information. You can avoid these shady sites, however, with a little caution.

Check out the image above; looks legit enough, right? Then, as you look closer, there is no space between Disney and World, and there is a period snuck in on the end. Scammers are notorious for these type of copycat pages, and you’ll see them often on social media.

Look for misspellings in the website address. Extra or missing letters, domains that don’t end in the typical .com or .org, and added words are red flags. Before you click on that ad, mouse over it and look to the bottom left of your browser to check the address before you click, and even better advice is to type the URL directly into your browser. Don’t click on a link from an email or social media site unless you are absolutely sure it’s from a legitimate source.

Ensure your security by seeking the S. When you see the website URL, look for the https instead of the http on a shopping page before you check out. That S means you have a secure, encrypted connection. Without that security, you are at risk.

Additionally, steer away from public Wi-Fi when doing transactions on the web. Scammers could be sitting across the room from you, hacking the public Wi-Fi to steal your passwords.

Do your homework. If you are an avid online shopper, you probably have 3 or 4 places you typically visit to shop. This time of year, however, we find ourselves visiting specialty shops and boutiques online, too, and unless you are absolutely sure that the seller is legit, do some simple searching to check them out before you buy. Search the company/website name along with scam, complaint or review and see what pops up. If the majority of what comes back is negative info, or if no info at all comes up, that’s a sign that you might be headed down the wrong road. The Better Business Bureau is another source to check up on these retailers.

Not being taken for a sucker? Priceless. Using a credit card versus a debit card in your online transactions is a better choice as credit card companies are typically more vigilant in tracking purchases and protecting your card against fraud. Additionally, your debit or bank card provides direct access to your hard-earned money, versus a credit card that is based on a, well, credit system and usually has greater fraud protection.

Upgrade. Before you dig in on web shopping, make sure you’re using the latest, most secure platform. As new security vulnerabilities are discovered every day, so are the patches and updates that protect against them. Updating apps and OS versions on your phone, tablet or computer will help protect you against scams.

Don’t get me wrong; I love online shopping. I’m not presenting a Doomsday message, but rather a warning that these things exist and are out there, and if you’re vigilant about your protection, you can have a fantastic online shopping experience this holiday season!

Darren Burgfeld

About the Author

Darren Burgfeld
Father, brother, son, warrior-poet and digital assassin. Need we say more?

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