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How To Avoid Holiday Scams While Shopping Online This Year

'Tis the season for safe and secure online shopping.

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Shopping online makes it easy to fulfill holiday wishlists from the comfort of your home. However, it comes with some risks. Grace Hoyt, head of Global Account Security Partnerships at Google, warns that online scams are prolific right now. “Security is something that should really be top of mind year round, especially as we rely more and more on online services,” she tells First for Women. “However, there are definitely times of year [including the holidays] when more people online equals a bigger threat landscape for attackers.” Online scams put your personal and financial information at risk — fortunately, there are ways to safely shop your favorite websites during the holidays (and all year round). Keep reading for expert tips to avoid online shopping scams.

What are holiday scams?

The FBI describes two common holiday scams to look out for: non-delivery and non-payment crimes. Non-delivery scams involve a buyer paying for goods or services online, but never receiving the items. Non-payment scams, on the other hand, occur when services or goods are shipped but the seller isn’t paid. The financial impact of these holiday scams is major. For a period through October 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 44,220 complaints — due to these scams — with losses totaling over $276 million.

“In general, the types of scams we see do not change significantly. However, the techniques the scammers use and the methods of deploying these scams do change,” Mike Nordwall, FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge, explains on the bureau’s website. He adds that by doing your homework before shopping online, you may prevent falling victim to holiday scams.

How can you protect yourself from holiday scams?

Steer clear of holiday scams by following these three tips from the FBI’s website:

  • Don’t fall for phishing emails or advertisements. Such schemes may promise brand-name merchandise at extremely low prices or offer gift cards as an incentive. Other sites may claim they have products at a great price — but the products being sold are not the same as the items advertised.
  • Be mindful of untrustworthy sites or ads. This scam method will offer you items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons. Victims end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, then receiving nothing in return except a compromised or stolen identity.
  • Avoid incentives from unauthorized websites. Secondary markets for airline miles, gift cards, rewards credits, and other similar products have inadvertently increased the demand for stolen information and boosted its value. If the incentives aren’t coming directly from a company or organization, it’s better to ignore these offers entirely.

Hoyt offers two additional tips for shopping safely online. First, she recommends double checking a merchant’s website link and any emails you receive from them. “If you hover over the [website] link, do the site addresses match? When you get an email from a store, are they urgently asking you to give up personal information like your credit card number? These are red flags that could save you from falling victim to a scam,” she notes.

She also suggests setting up a virtual card for online purchases. “To protect your payment information, use a virtual card number instead of sharing your actual card number with merchants,” she notes. “[For example,] Google creates a virtual number that is shared with the merchant to process your transaction, while keeping your actual card number hidden and protected.” Virtual cards are usually intended for one-time use, so you can create new card numbers for various stores. Plus, if a business you’ve shopped experiences a data breach, the virtual card number being retrieved wouldn’t impact your real account.

Ready, set, shop!

These tips will help secure your financial details while online shopping and prevent you from falling prey to predatory scams, which in turn, save you the headache of reporting a stolen identity or trying to recover money spent on a fraud. Ready to start shopping? Browse these holiday gift guides to buy your kids or grandkids, holiday hostess, and beloved furry friend something special.

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