The onslaught of holiday advertisements is in full swing, flooding mailboxes, inboxes, TV, websites, and mobile phones, and these ads will continue increasing until all last minute shopping has been done as retailers try to squeeze out every possible dollar in holiday revenue. And then there will be the after-holiday sales…
Chances are you will be among the 90% of consumers who say they expect to shop for gifts online this year, a 1% increase over last year. You might even be among the 15% who are expected to purchase gifts through a mobile device [i]. In fact, 60% of smartphone or tablet owners plan to use their device for a range of holiday shopping purposes this year, according to a new report by Prosper Mobile Insights.
This report indicates that among respondents saying they will use their mobile device for shopping this season, 60% expect to use their device as a “mobile mall,” with 56.7% primarily using their device to plan and research purchases, and one-third will use them to make at least 50% of their holiday purchases.
Whether you are shopping for others or for yourself, knowing how to get a great deal takes a lot more than just looking at the price tag.
Fortunately, learning 6 basic precautions will turn you into a savvy and much safer online shopper.
- Start with a secure internet environment. If your computer, tablet or cell phone isn’t protected from viruses and other malware your financial information and passwords will be stolen as you make purchases (as will everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet far less than half of the US population adequately protects their computers – and only 4% have security protection on their tablets or smartphones[ii].
- You must have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed and up-to-date. If your computer or phone isn’t protected from Trojans, viruses and other malware, your financial information, passwords and identity will be stolen. If the cost of security software is prohibitive, at least use one of the free services available – just search on ‘best free antivirus’, and ‘best free mobile antivirus’ to see your options. If you don’t think you need mobile security software consider this; BullGuard security identified 2,500 different types of mobile malware in 2010[iii].
- Secure your internet connection. Make sure your computer’s firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information. If you need a free firewall, search for ‘best free firewall’. Never use a public WiFi service for any type of financial transaction or other type of sensitive information transfer.
- Identify trustworthy companies. You need to either know the company – or know their reputation.
- If you already know the store, shopping their online store is very safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help. If you already know the online store’s reputation you will also be very safe.
- If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best option; you just need to take a few more steps. Search online for reviews from other users to see what their experiences were with the company, and conduct a background check by looking at sites that review e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, Better Business Bureau). If the store isn’t listed as a legitimate site by one of these sources, or the store has a lot of negative reviews, DON’T SHOP THERE. It’s that easy.
- Know how to avoid scams. The holiday season is primetime for email and web scammers because they know millions of people will be spending billions of dollars online. To give you a sense of just how much money changes hands, last December (2010), $32.6 Billion dollars were spent on internet shopping sites[iv]. The best way to avoid scams is simple. NEVER, ever, click on a link in an email or on website advertisement no matter how reputable the host website or email sender may be. The website ad or email may be a really good fake, or the website or email account may have been hijacked by spammers. Instead, use a search engine and find the deal or store yourself – if you can’t find the deal on the legitimate store’s site you know that ‘offer’ was a scam. Click here to learn more about identifying scams.
- Protect personal information. Many ecommerce and mobile commerce sites encourage you to create a user account, but unless you truly plan to shop there often you’ll be better off not doing so. If you do choose to create a profile, do not let the store keep your financial information on file. All you really need to purchase something should be your name, mailing address, and your payment information.
- If the merchant asks for more information – like your bank account, social security, or driver’s license numbers, NEVER provide these. Some reputable companies will ask additional questions about your interests, but these should always be optional and you should be cautious about providing responses.
- Keep in mind that the company may not have strong security measures in place. The lack of strong security precautions in many companies is a real concern. Huge companies like Sony have been hacked multiple times and consumer’s passwords, names and financial information has been stolen. And unfortunately, many smaller businesses have even fewer safeguards in place to protect your data – so give them as little as possible! To learn more about these risks, see Small Business Owners Suffer from False Sense of Cyber Security.
- Make payments safely using a credit card or well respected payment service. Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime. However, you probably don’t have a credit card, so striking a deal with a parent or guardian to put the charges on their card – with you handing them the cash – may be a good option. Or, you can use a payment service like PayPal that hides your financial information from the online store and can be set up to take money out of your bank account. Do not use checks, cashier’s checks, wire transfers, or money orders as these carry high risks for fraud.
- Do your research. Just because a store claims to have the lowest price, doesn’t mean they actually have the best deal.
- Comparing the advertised price of an item doesn’t give you the full picture. You have to look at the final price – that includes any shipping, handling or taxes to see which deal may be really be the better bargain. Some companies show lower prices, but make up the discount by charging high shipping fees.
- Check the company’s return policy. Some companies charge fairly steep return fees for shipping and restocking, so if you think the item may be returned factor this into the price as well.
- Look for online coupons or discounts. Lots of stores offer special deals if you just take the time to look for them. Typing the store’s name and ‘coupon’ is usually all it takes to discover whether extra discounts may apply.
- No matter how great the ‘deal’ if you can’t afford it or it’s over your budget, it isn’t a deal. Learning financial responsibility now will set you up for financial security for the rest of your lives. And in spite of all the glittery ads, many of the best gifts don’t cost money.
[ii] 96% of smartphones and tablets lack necessary security software – MobiThinking
[iii] Mobile Security & Malware Protection – BullGuard