Data Doctors: 2021 Online shopping tips

Q: What are the latest online shopping safety tips?

A: The holiday season always drives online purchase volume to the highest levels of the year, which also means that those with malicious intent step up their tactics as well.

Elaborate phishing scams

One of the more sophisticated scams incorporates a fully functional website that looks like it’s selling popular and hard-to-get items at great pricing.

Creating a fake shopping website that looks exactly like the website of a popular retailer is pretty easy, so you can’t always believe what you’re seeing.

The creators will then take to social media and web comments to link to these “amazing deal websites” to try to snare unsuspecting bargain shoppers.

Take a close look at the entire web address, as fake sites often use elaborate tricks to try to hide the fact that you aren’t on the actual retailer’s website.

Consider installing a free web browser extension, such as Trend Micro Check, which will actively scan every link that you’re presented with to warn you when something is suspicious.

Retailers’ apps are safer

Fake shopping sites target those using a web browser to do their shopping, so an easy way to avoid being tricked is to do all your shopping via the mobile apps of popular retailers.

As long as you go to the official app store for your device and download the app yourself, it’s the safest way to shop online.

Clever email scams

Another scam consists of email messages that appear to be from a popular retailer with a tracking number or an attachment that claims to be your tracking information.

Always write down your tracking number when you make the initial purchase, so you can manually go to the shipping company’s website to track your purchases.

If you forgot to write it down, log into your account to get the tracking number from your purchase history, instead of clicking on a link from any email message.

Also, watch for emails claiming to be from the ‘fraud department’ asking you to verify a purchase. Never interact with any links or phone numbers in the message; go to the retailer’s website or app and log into your account to verify anything.

Get burner accounts

A residual effect of the online shopping season is that your email address and phone number are going to be added to more marketing databases.

If you set up a special Gmail account just for all your shopping activities, it will keep all the extra junk from hitting your personal account. If it becomes overrun with junk, just stop using it.

You can do the same thing to protect your cellphone number by signing up for a free Google Voice number, which works via an app on your smartphone.

All the text messages and calls that go to your ‘burner’ number will appear on your smartphone via the app without ever exposing your real number to the marketing world.

Never use a debit card

If you do fall for a scam, and you used your debit card to make the purchase, the money comes directly out of your checking account.

Debit card fraud protection generally works the same as credit cards, but while you’re trying to get things straightened out, that missing money could keep you from making mortgage, rent or car payments.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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