Whether it’s the lure of a good deal or just the convenience of staying in your pajamas in the comfort of your own home, online shopping has become more popular than ever. This year’s Cyber Monday sales exceeded all expectations, jumping 30% from last year. With almost $2 billion in one-day totals, it’s obvious a lot of folks are turning to the internet for their shopping needs. But with the holiday season upon us, it’s worth taking a look at a few ways you could get burned while doing a little online retail therapy. Here are three things to look out for:

Fraudulent retail websites: The best way to shop online is through trusted sources. If you want an iPad, you can be assured that you’re getting what you paid for if you buy if from apple.com. Other sites, like amazon.com or eBay.com are also trusted retailers as well. A potentially fraudulent retail website may have spelling and/or grammar mistakes. You also want to look for a valid security seal (such as ‘VeriSign’, ‘Truste’, or ‘Google Trusted Store’) on the site as well. Clicking on the seal will usually take you to the security website that verified the retailer. It only takes a few minutes to do a quick check that could alert you to a scam website.

Payment Methods: The best way to pay online is with a credit card. The ability to dispute any questionable charges is a huge plus with this method. Paypal is another good option because it doesn’t require you to disclose personal bank account/credit card information, making you less susceptible to identity theft. Either method is a better alternative than wire transfers or direct debit which you should definitely avoid, especially with a website you’re not familiar with. Pay attention to shipping charges so you don’t get caught off guard. Also, when entering payment information, check to make sure the page has a URL that starts with ‘https:’ to ensure a secure connection to the website. And of course always print a copy of your receipt!

If it looks too good to be true…: More than anything adhering to the old saying ‘caveat emptor’ should rule the day when shopping online. If the price on an item is significantly lower on one website than it is on all the others, it’s a huge red flag. Steer clear of social media offers for deals or “free” gifts. Most of those are spam, and clicking the link could end up with you trying to remove a malicious virus from your computer. Customer reviews can also be faked so you shouldn’t rely completely on what others say about a particular site or product. Bottom line is that a little common sense can go a long way online.

In the holiday rush to get all of your shopping done while still finding the best bargain, it’s easy to overlook the signs that you might be putting yourself at risk online. Enjoy the convenience, but also take the time to do your research. Happy Shopping & Happy Holidays!

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