Virginia Tech cybersecurity expert on how to avoid online shopping scams this holiday season

The holiday shopping season is now well underway, and watchdogs want to help people avoid, detect and report online shopping scams.

“Reports about online shopping issues aren’t new for the Federal Trade Commission, but the supply chain issues related to the pandemic have made matters much, much worse,” Christina Miranda with the Division of Consumer Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said.

“If you’re spending some of your hard earned money online, just make sure you know where it’s going,” she said.

Beware of fake websites. They can show up in your search results, or be in phishing emails that look like they came from companies you trust, but actually take you to a fake site or a site that’s just there to rip you off.

“The way that people start tuning in to the fact that they might have something wrong with their online shopping is that they’ll often tell us about orders that never arrived, or they get something other than what was ordered or they’re just struggling to get refunds,” Miranda said.

The FTC offers the following tips for online shoppers:

  • When using an unfamiliar retailer, do a search on the company or product using terms like review, complaint or scam
  • Realize name brand goods at big discounts might be fakes
  • Closely examine the terms of the sale. Check the total price, taxes, shipping, handling, expected delivery date, refund policy, who pays for return shipping and if there’s a restocking fee
  • Always pay by credit card so you don’t have to pay for things you order but don’t get.

Virginia Tech cybersecurity expert Aaron Brantly has additional safety tips:

  • Make sure that any website used for purchases has “SSL” that’s often viewed as a lock icon on Safari and Chrome
  • Limit the amount of personal information you disclose
  • Search on retail sites such as Walmart, Amazon, Target, Best Buy etc. rather than using search engines
  • Use trusted vendors you know
  • Consider what you are purchasing: where was it made, what types of data will be used by it and will it collect, what are the terms of service associated with its use, does it meet security standards, is it manufactured by a reputable producer?
  • Review your credit card statements and banking statements regularly to identify potentially fraudulent purchases
  • Do not reuse passwords or usernames — particularly those that are used on banking, billing or medical sites
  • Use a password manager such as Keychain, LastPass, or 1Password to create unique user IDs and passwords for each site you visit.

The FTC recommends that people unable to resolve disputes with online retailers report them. There are multiple ways to report the information as detailed on the FTC website.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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