Shop Online with Confidence

Here are several tips to remember before sharing your credit card and personal information with any online retailer.

When it comes to shopping, the key is to make sure you shop safely and securely – especially when buying gifts online. As more and more consumers shop online, customers must be hyper vigilant about fraud, identity theft and other security risks. Here are several tips to remember before sharing your credit card and personal information with any online retailer. 

  1. Shop with retailers you know. Internet-savvy hackers can attempt to confuse online shoppers by creating look-alike web sites that lead you to “purchase” screens that request your financial information. When shopping online, make sure you’re on an authentic site – preferably a business, retailer or third-party pay site (like PayPal) that you know and trust. Enter web site URLs very carefully to avoid being directed to a copycat web site. Once you’ve landed on the home page, confirm the URL by reloading just to be safe.  
  2. Pay for purchases on secure web sites. Never make a purchase until you confirm that the online retailer you’re doing business with uses secure socket layer (SSL) encryption. Encryption technology transfers information between computers, scrambling the information you provide, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from intercepting it as it travels to the retailer’s system. You can determine if a web site has SSL simply by checking the URL. If the site begins with HTTPS:// (instead of the normal web prefix HTTP://), it has SSL encryption. In addition, check your web browser for a locked padlock icon found in the status bar at the bottom of the web browser or in the address bar. If there is confusion or a technology issue that is preventing you from making a purchase on a trusted site, pick up the phone and call a customer service representative rather than sending an email message with personal information. 
  3. Avoid email links to offers that seem “too good to be true.” Every day email spammers send millions of phishing emails offering free or discounted products and services. Don’t believe the online hype. If an email offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Phishing emails typically include several clickable links that may take you to a dummy website or ask you for personal information such as confirming your email address or credit card number. Don’t click links in an email from anyone you don’t know and never provide personal information in an email response. 
  4. Pay with your credit card, not a debit card. Debit cards are a convenient option for shoppers who are on a budget as it prevents racking up a large credit bill. But consider other ways to stick to a budget when shopping online. Making online purchases with a credit card means you’re protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. If a transaction goes wrong, you have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can even withhold payments during a credit investigation.
  5. Scrutinize your monthly statements. If you make many purchases on a credit card, take extra time to review your statement when it arrives to ensure you don’t pay for purchases you never made. If you do notice any unusual charges, contact your credit card company immediately. Note that while it’s not typical, identity thieves can obtain your financial information now and use it in the future, so if you shop online regularly, monitor your credit card statements carefully and frequently year-round. 

With a little patience and knowledge, you can have a secure online shopping experience. Consider meeting with a financial advisor who can help you manage your household budget and ensure that all of your financial accounts are secure. 

Rob Davis lives in University Place with his wife Lorri and sons Wesley and Parker.  He is a Financial Advisor and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner™ with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Tacoma, Washington.  Rob specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 35 years.  He is licensed/registered to do business with U.S. residents only in the states of Washington, Idaho and Arizona.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.

© 2012 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Tyler Pease January 23, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Rob, good article. I would add one more tip to your list. Never save your credit card on an e-retailer's website. This may be inconvenient but it puts you at much less risk. E-retailers should be encrypting any sensitive information that they have in their databases, but they often store such information unencrypted or using poor encryption. If somebody steals such a database, it doesn’t take long to break a lot of encryption schemes today because powerful hardware is increasingly accessible. Gaining access to the database is the number one way security breaches happen. Whether a bad guy directly hacks into a database, or steals it physically (this has often happened by taking a laptop or suitcase holding a backup of the database), this is the easiest and most attractive way to steal valuable data. After all, bad guys would rather spend their time gaining access to thousands or millions of user accounts rather than targeting one specific user. It’s actually a bit sad how much time and effort goes into securing the connection between the end-user and the e-retailer and how little attention is devoted to securing the database. While I agree that the user should make sure any site is using a secured SSL connection, this is actually a very unlikely and difficult method of attack. The main place where strong encryption is needed is in the database. I cannot think of one major data breach in the last decade that was not the result of a database being compromised.
Rob Davis February 01, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Good info, Tyler. You should pass the on in a follow up article of your own!


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