Using the web for holiday shopping offers many advantages — the convenience of avoiding crowds, the ability to browse multiple online retailers and compare products from the comfort of your home, not to mention considerable cost-savings on gas (those trips back and forth to the store can really add up at the pump).
To make online shopping even easier, retailers often reach out directly to consumers through ads and promotions sent to email inboxes. But beware. While many of these ads often contain links taking you directly to the retailer’s website, many might not be what they seem.
Email scammers, or “phishers,” as they’re known, view the holiday shopping season as an opportunity to steal your money, or even worse, your identity. Last year, email scammers defrauded consumers out of $3.2 billion by sending unsuspecting shoppers bogus emails pretending to be a retailer or bank, and then stealing credit card numbers or other personal data when people click on the fake links in the emails.
What can you do to protect yourself? First, if an email arrived in your spam or bulk folder, it is more than likely just that. Just trash it and move on. But, you can check to see if the email is valid. One way to tell is to look for a blue ribbon next to the message. That’ll tell you the message is a Goodmail CertifiedEmail (www.certifiedemail.net). If the blue ribbon is there, that means the email is authentic and that you’re safe to click on the links within it.
Many retailers use CertifiedEmail to let you know their emails are safe, but some do not. If you’re not sure the message is authentic, it’s best to manually type the URL of the online retailer where you want to shop, rather than clicking on a link in an email message. Another option is to call the retailer’s customer service number to confirm that the email you received is really from them. Goodmail also offers more helpful tips for spotting email scams at online at www.certifiedemail.net.
Some scammers will send an email that appears to be from a legitimate business and ask you to call a phone number to update your account or access a “refund.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), because they use Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, the area code you call does not reflect where the scammers really are. If you need to reach an organization call the number on your financial statements or on the back of your credit card.
If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC’s identity theft website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Victims of phishing can become victims of identity theft, and while you can’t entirely control whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps to minimize its impact. If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these new accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You may catch an incident early if you order a free copy of your credit report periodically from any of the three major credit bureaus. See www.annualcreditreport.com for details on ordering a free annual credit report.
Shopping online can save you time and money, and can be a great way to enjoy the holiday season — as long as you remember to protect your personal financial information at all times.