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How to avoid becoming the victim of an online shopping scam

For some of us, shopping for gifts is the worst part of celebrating the holidays — showing up to an overheated shopping mall in your -40-degree weather winter jacket, with your sweat flowing faster than the Niagara Falls? No thanks.

Fortunately, online shopping is here to save the day. If shopping online isn’t something you do frequently (or ever), it may seem a little intimidating. There’s a seemingly endless number of shops and retailers to choose from online – including many fraudulent sites that are out to steal your time and money.

Whether you’re an online shopping novice or a pro wanting to brush up on some cyber safety tips, here’s how you can make your online shopping experience less stressful than going into an overheated store.

Shop at retailers that you’re familiar with

Shopping online isn’t all that different than when you’re buying from a store that you’re familiar with. Stick to shops that you know and trust, especially for larger purchases like electronics, gadgets and gift cards. It’s important to ensure that you’re buying from a legitimate retailer or reputable source, but keep in mind that there are spoofed sites that are made to mimic legitimate retailers. Be on the lookout for potential typos or misspellings in the URL, an unlocked padlock icon at the start of your URL address, and red flags around the site (are there suspicious pop-ups? Do they have their privacy policy in place?) These small indicators can help you judge whether or not a website is safe to surf.

If you do find yourself on a new website, however, there are a few things you can look for to make sure you’re not getting scammed:

  • Don’t make purchases from sites that ask for too much – asking for information like your first and last name, your contact information (like a phone number or email address), a shipping and billing address, and your credit card number is totally normal. On the flip side, if you’re checking out and they’re asking for your SIN, mother’s maiden name, or other suspicious information, run.
  • If the website is difficult to navigate or has a lot of typos and pixelated images, there’s a good chance it isn’t legitimate.
  • If prices seem (way) too good to be true, then they definitely are.

Don’t save your credit card information in your web browser

When making purchases online, your web browser might ask if you want to save your credit card information for future purchases. And we get it: it’s convenient and easy. But one thing it’s not is cyber secure.

Saving your credit card information in your browser means that anyone that has access to your device or accounts can make purchases with your card just as conveniently and easily as you can — and it becomes even scarier if cyber criminals compromise or hack your device.

Trust us when we say that saving a few seconds at check-out is NOT worth sacrificing your cyber security or your savings.

Check your credit card statements regularly

Don’t wait until the end of the month — if you’re making purchases online, it’s important to check your statements frequently to make sure you aren’t getting scammed. Take a look at your electronic statements through your bank or credit card provider online, and keep track of what you’re purchasing and how much you’re spending to make it easier to spot irregularities. If you do see suspicious or unexpected charges on your statements, get in touch with the company as soon as possible. If you can’t connect with them, contact your bank to report any potential online fraud.

Use a VPN in public places

You’ll likely be doing your online holiday shopping at home in your favourite footed pyjamas, like the rest of us. But on the off chance that you’re out buying a seasonal eggnog latte from your favourite coffee shop and happen to scroll across an ad for the perfect gift for your quirky sister-in-law, hold off for a minute.

Public Wi-Fi isn’t always what it seems. In fact, cyber criminals often target businesses with free public Wi-Fi, setting up malicious hot spot networks for you to connect to so they can steal your data.

It’s best not to make purchases over public networks, but if your sister-in-law is the most difficult person to shop for on your list and stock is running low, you can always disconnect from Wi-Fi and try to make your purchase over your cellular network. You can also use public Wi-Fi responsibly by setting up a VPN on your device before you start scrolling, which can help stop cyber criminals from accessing your information.

Conclusion

Your holiday shopping experience may look a little different this year – but we promise that if you follow these tips to stay safe while shopping online, it will be a less stressful venture than carrying armfuls of shopping bags as sweat drips off your brow.

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