Shopping Safely Online in 2020

By Elvis Huff on November 19, 2020
8 minute read

If you are like me, you want to ensure that this Holiday season is filled with some sense of normalcy and cheer. Shopping online will definitely be on my long list of “to-do’s” but how do you do that and stay away from scams? Have there been any new scams appear this year?

Risk of scams

I do not want allege that 2020 is any worse than previous years but there are some new scams to be aware of. This year, I have seen new tactics emerge relating to COVID19. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s data, there have been 224K reports of COVID19 related scams and schemes nationwide with a staggering $160M in reported losses.

Among the reported scam tactics, online shopping was the highest reported with 32K reports of scams. Tennessee was included in this, with 2,800 COVID19 scam reports.

Still shop online?

With numbers like these, you may be wondering, is it safe to shop online? Yes it is! Do not let the data scare you, you can shop safe and smart. Follow these tips and stop the fear.

Know thy retailer

Desperation and hastily trying to get that last minute gift will get you into trouble. Avoid online retailers that offer the latest products at very steep discounts with little or no history. Newly established online shops may be out to sell you a knock off or even take your money and never ship a product. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Check feedback

If you must use an unknown online retailer, check their history and reviews. A great place to start is simply searching for “the business’ name [and] complaints” in a search engine. Also, check out the Better Business Bureau’s database to do some research. https://www.bbb.org/en/us

Buying from individuals

There is nothing wrong with buying something from an individual online as long as you do your homework first. Make sure to ask lots of questions and for additional pictures. If at any time, you sense something is off, do not justify it – skip the item and look elsewhere. Avoid payment in advance, over paying to cover shipping, handling, taxes, and fees and only use legitimate means to pay such as Paypal. Do not just money to the individual directly through other means. This increases your liability when it is to a person.

Pay safe

Speaking of payments, always pay smart. Never email or text your card number directly. Use an online shopping cart platform to handle all of the card processing. It protects you and the merchant. If the seller says they do not have a shopping cart or third party payment processor, look elsewhere.

Avoid steep discounted items

Avoid items that are discounted heavily. The lure of steep savings often ends in money loss. Items offered for sale online at steep discounts, are often part of “no ship” schemes. No ship schemes are scams where you pay for an item but it never shows up. Worse, the scammers may ask for additional payment to cover higher than expected shipping costs. The result is that you may pay twice for an item that you never receive. I know it is tempting but it could be a scam wanting to steal your money. I cannot stress this enough, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Guard your information

Be very careful with your personal information. Always be conscious of what information you are asked to provide to purchase a product. If you are asked to provide sensitive personal information because of terms and conditions related to quantity or shipping areas, look elsewhere. You should consider checking out as a guest where applicable, to avoid the hassle of entering in too much information or use a retailer that you shop frequently from.

Avoid suspicious texts and instant messages related to discounts

Scammers are now sending random text and instant messages offering deals and secret coupon codes. The problem? When you click on these links in the message for the deals, your information and device are at risk. Often, the scammers will want your personal information or try to install malware on your device without your knowledge. If you were not expecting it, or do not know the sender, delete it and look elsewhere.

Download your bank’s mobile app and check your accounts often

By using your bank’s mobile app, you should have immediate, real-time access to your account and recent transactions. This will help to keep you informed, in near real time, to what is happening with your account. This is helpful to see if an online seller ran your card twice or charged too much. Just make sure to have a strong passcode on the phone and biometric (face or finger) authentication turned on. Finally, ensure that the device is setup to erase data after a certain number of incorrect passcode entries.

Finally, have fun, stay safe, and do not let scammers ruin the festivities.

Have another thought, tip or suggestion? Leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

Posted by Elvis Huff

Elvis Huff worked as an officer and network administrator for 12 years with the Lebanon Police Department and has also served as an adjunct professor in information systems at Cumberland University. Read More »

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