Online shopping

Online shopping is going to skyrocket this holiday season. Scams too. Here’s how to protect yourself.

It’s not just the pandemic that has pushed more people online. Long before COVID, more and more shoppers decided to avoid the crowds and just click through for their Christmas gifts.

And I understand. I hate shopping, especially on vacation. There is the search for a parking space, the crowd of customers, the long queue at the checkouts in the 10-lane stores but only three cashiers who take care of the checkouts.

The old expression “Shop till you drop” has become more like “Shop till you want to shout”.

So it makes sense that for the first time in Gallup’s look at holiday spending trends, a majority of Americans – 56% – say they are very likely to do their Christmas shopping online. That’s an increase of eight percentage points from 2017.

In 1998, when Gallup first asked about shopping online, only 4% of Americans said they were likely to shop over the Internet. Gallup doesn’t ask the question every year.

“The trend since 2017 looks more like a simple continuation of organic growth in the number of people moving online over the past 20 years, rather than a pandemic-induced bump,” said Lydia Saad, director of American social research at Gallup, said in an interview.

Americans said they personally plan to spend an average of $886 on Christmas gifts, according to the Gallup poll. This makes the holiday season prime time for scammers. With online shopping providing more opportunities for fraudsters, here are some tips to protect yourself online.

Pay with a credit card, not a debit card

You may think you can avoid debt by paying with your debit card. But a credit card purchase offers more consumer protections than a debit card.

If you pay with a credit card for goods or services not received, you have certain rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50, and even then most lenders won’t charge you anything. Charges for goods and services not delivered as agreed may be disputed as a billing error. You can ask your credit card company to temporarily hold payment while they investigate a fraudulent purchase.

The rules governing your debit card fall under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, which does not contain a type error not delivered as agreed that can be disputed, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you pay with a debit card for a service or product that is never received, you should contact your bank to dispute the charges that have already been deducted from your account. It may mean some time before the transaction is rolled back. Your debit card is directly linked to your bank account and fraudulent transactions can quickly do a lot of damage.

If you don’t have a credit card, use a prepaid debit card to shop online.

Watch out for unrealistic shipping promises

Supply chain issues have led to shortages, and scammers know people will be looking for retailers who can promise fast, free delivery. In your desperation to get a gift in time for the holidays, you could fall for a scam. But you not only risk getting something late – it might never happen. Be skeptical of shipping guarantees that sound too good to be true.

Beware of fake text messages and shipping emails

Don’t click on anything in a text or email. It might be legit, but why take the risk? Instead, go to the retailer’s website and enter your shipping or purchase code to double-check your order details, advises the Better Business Bureau.

Be a guest

Many online shopping sites want you to create an online account to make a purchase. But to do this, you have to give up personal information stored on another database. If you end up dealing with a fraudulent site, you will be giving away information that could be used for present and future scams. Check in as a guest so you don’t have to provide too much information.

Don’t be fooled by a gift card offer

Inflation worries you about how far your money will go. But that email or text offering a $50 gift card is fake. They all are. Seriously. If you think it’s real, visit the online marketplace or call customer service to determine if the offer is legit.

Scammers love gift cards too

If you’re told to pay for an item with a gift card, you’re about to get ripped off, according to the FTC. This is a favorite payment method for scammers because it’s like paying with cash. It is almost impossible to get your money back.

Find a physical address

“Legit online stores should provide you with a physical address and working phone number in the contact section,” says the Better Business Bureau.

If you need to find a way to contact the retailer, this is a red flag that you should not ignore. Return and shipping policies should be clear and easy to understand, says the BBB.

Scammers have become so smart that it is often difficult to determine what is fake and what is real. They also read the news and will play on your fears about inflation, shipping delays, and some hot out-of-stock items.

Assume that any holiday offer you receive via text or email is fraudulent. Don’t click on anything. Unless you’re willing to do some detective work, shop well-known retailers.

Your best defense is to be super paranoid about everything to make sure the season of giving doesn’t turn into a season of taking from you.