The rise of online shopping during the pandemic has led to a proportional increase in online fraud and scams. As the holiday season approaches, we want to make sure you are armed with the knowledge and the skills to protect yourself. With a little awareness, you can avoid online shopping fraud as the busiest time of the year for retail shopping is shifting into high gear.
As of mid-November, this continuously updated FTC Covid-19 Daily Fraud Report had recorded 34,477 incidents of online fraud during 2020, costing consumers over $25.4 million in losses, and the numbers are rising. Add the holiday shopping volume to these numbers and you can see why this time is very attractive to cybercriminals. What can you do to protect yourself? Check out this quick list to help you beat the odds and stay safe this holiday season.
1. Make sure you are buying from a reputable source. As the Pandemic creates more opportunity for scammers, consumers need to be vigilant and understand who they are transacting with. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report in July indicating that many of the reported incidents of goods not received by consumers weren’t the result of porch thieves but rather consumers transacting with fake websites that just took their money and never delivered. Before transacting with an online company for the first time, do your homework before you buy. Try to find evidence that the site is real, for example, look for a physical address and phone number associated with the company. You can also type in the company's name in an online search to see if there are any reported scams associated with the name. In addition, we recommend that you search the Better Business Bureau site for information, simply by typing www.bbb.org and entering the company name.
2. Understand the total cost of your order and what you are getting. If it's too good to be true, many times it is. Check out the seller's reputation for standing behind their goods and their customer service. Pay close attention to the product description and the fine print. Look for size specifications as pictures shown online can be wildly deceiving. Be on the lookout for words like "restocked", "refurbished," and "vintage," as the product is most likely used. While it's tempting to purchase designer-brand items at lower than retail prices, many times the item could be a counterfeit. The designer name can be changed so slightly that you may fail to notice it in online pictures. Finally, pay close attention to additional fees or costs in "Shipping" or "Handling" charges. Make sure you review the total order cost before you checkout as a lower advertised price could be recouped in these additional fees at check-out.
3. Check out the terms for refunds, shipping methods, and delivery date. Every retailer has their own shipping and refund policies. In many cases, you can select the shipping method, but retailers may choose the one that works best for them. Before you place your order, it's important that you understand what the shipping method will be, what the expectations are for delivery, and what you need to do if you are not satisfied with the purchase. Refund policies will vary and can often have limits on what is an acceptable timeframe to obtain a refund. If you're gifting this item on Christmas morning after a Black Friday purchase, you could be outside the refund window of some retailers.
4. Plan for deliveries left at your door. With more people staying indoors due to COVID, online shopping has become the convenient and safe way to buy groceries, household items, clothing, and everyday necessities. And while it's nice having packages delivered in days or even hours, there are multiple ways a delivery might not make it into your hands. Most of the major delivery companies such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS offer consumers ways to track packages with email or text notifications, ensuring packages aren't left or forgotten. In addition it is a good idea to create a space near your front door, behind planters or other items, so deliveries can be placed out of site from the street. Installing security cameras can both help prevent porch theft and provide important footage in case a porch pirate strikes. Locker systems and smart key technologies can keep deliveries safe from theft, providing peace of mind that packages are ready to pick-up when you are.
5. Use a consistent payment method and track your purchases. Using your Cobalt MasterCard Debit Card for online purchases is a great way to ensure you are protected in the event there is fraud. It's also a great way to track your online purchases, in real-time with mobile and online banking, to ensure there aren't any unexpected or unauthorized charges. It's also important to retain electronic records, from retailers, that you can compare to your card activity to make sure everything matches your expectations and you have received all expected deliveries.
While this may all seem overwhelming it will quickly become second nature and you will be shopping with confidence without even having to think of this quick list. And if you are a part of our Member Plus Program you can also rest assured that if you find you are a victim of identity theft - for any reason - a dedicated Privacy Advocate is standing ready to help with Fully Managed Identity Theft Recovery. Happy Holidays!