FINANCIAL BRIEFS from COMERICA BANK …Online shopping safety during the holiday season

Despite reports that the recession has ended, many people are still feeling the effects and are trying to watch their spending this holiday season. The popularity of online shopping has steadily increased in recent years due to the convenience and the ability to often find more money-saving incentives through a company’s website than in their store. And over the holidays, online transactions tend to increase, as many people would rather spend time at home with friends and family than battling the weather or fighting crowds at the local mall. Even though online shopping has become commonplace, that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent safe, and consumers must take the appropriate steps to protect their personal information.
“Even though more people shop online, it’s still a good idea to be smart with the way you make your online purchases,” says Terry Thornton, Senior Vice President, Fraud Services, with Comerica Bank. “No one wants to be the victim of identity theft, so learning how to shop smart online could help save you from fraud and identity theft.”
Thornton offers the following tips that can help make sure you buy gifts safely over the Internet:
Always know who you’re dealing with. If the website does not look legitimate, don’t shop there. Some scam sites may offer deals, but are really just itching to steal your information. When in doubt, check the online store against those in the Better Business Bureau at the local and state levels. Also, make sure the online store has a real phone number and don’t hesitate to call with any concerns. If you’re still wary, take your business elsewhere to a more trusted, reputable website.
Look for security clues on the website. Thornton suggests that consumers take a look at the site for security clues and other information that shows the store is reliable. “Legitimate websites will not ask for personal information and won’t take you to a third party website,” Thornton says. It’s also a good idea to update your security software and antivirus equipment in order to be sure that there are no malicious bugs embedded in the site itself.
Guard your information. Protect your personal information when you’re shopping online. Online stores will typically ask for a shipping address, billing address and credit card number. Legitimate online stores will not ask for a social security number or a checking account number unless you are using a payment system such as PayPal, etc. Any requests for that type of information when using a credit card should be a red flag. Should this happen, take it as a warning and leave the website immediately.
Pay the safest way. The safest way to pay online is with a credit card. Set a budget ahead of time and don’t spend more than you can afford on your credit card. Make sure you stick to your pre-determined limit and only spend what you have so you don’t receive a bill come January that you can’t pay. “Using a credit card to shop online is one of the safest ways to pay,” Thornton says. “It is easier to dispute charges and also means you don’t have to give out any additional personal information online, including information like your checking account number.”
If you choose to shop online with your debit card, make sure the “http” that is in the browser bar turns to “https” on the checkout page before you enter any billing information. Many sites also post the “VeriSign Secured” checkmark icon, which is another indication of safety.
Pop–up Ads. When shopping online, be cautious of pop-up ads after you make a purchase. The pop-up may promise cash back rewards once you click “yes” on the ad. It may automatically sign you up for a company’s online membership service as well. Don’t click on these ads as they may be scams.
Monitor your card after making purchases. In order to properly track your online spending, Thornton advises that people keep their online purchases on one card only. Not only is it an easy way to keep track of what you are purchasing but if there is an issue with your card, you can cancel that one immediately and not have to cancel multiple cards.
Online shopping is a convenience for many people during the holiday season, and if done carefully, it can be a safe, easy way to save the time and stress of going to multiple stores. Following these simple tips can give you piece of mind and even save you some money when online shopping this holiday season.