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Online Scams

A whopping 43 percent of holiday shopping identity theft occurs online.

The holiday season is quickly approaching, which means Americans are starting to prepare mentally and financially for the most wonderful time of the year. According to a recent study by Experian, 43 percent of consumers who had their identity stolen say it happened while shopping online during the holidays. To help you safely navigate this major online shopping holiday and save money, here are some tips from Rebecca Gramuglia, retail expert at

According to a recent survey conducted by, 71 percent of Americans plan to shop online this year. However, it’s important not to fall victim to identity theft or other not-so-jolly situations. Save yourself from falling victim by recognizing these sources of scams:

• Avoid suspicious websites. Especially when looking for the hottest toy of the season, you may come across a variety of sites. If you see one that seems questionable, has an outdated design and/or has multiple pop-up windows, it may not be a legitimate retailer. Refrain from making any purchases on these types of sites to ensure that your personal information does not get compromised.

• Don’t overlook the URL. In addition to avoiding suspicious looking sites, make sure your site has either a little padlock icon on the left side of the search bar and/or says “https”—emphasis on the ‘s’. This layer of security is essential when online shopping and sharing personal information. If the site is not secured or the URL only features “http,” your browser may point this out to you in the search bar.

• Unsecure networks and devices. If you’re going to make a purchase online, make sure you take the necessary steps to protect yourself. Use security software and firewalls to keep your information secure. Be sure to avoid public computers and public WiFi networks to make sure no one can potentially access your information. And regularly change your password (every three to six months) to reduce the chances of someone accessing your profiles, data, etc.

• Pay with protection. Ensure your online safety by not only logging onto a secure site and network, but also by making purchases online with either a credit card or through PayPal. By using these payment methods, you’ll have an added layer of consumer protection that can guard you against fraud. However, if you notice any suspicious activity on your credit card, contact your provider immediately.

• Beware of phishing e-mails. While you’re skimming your e-mail this holiday season for coupons or promotions, be wary of any enticing e-mails from an unfamiliar sender in your inbox. Avoid the most common type of fraud by deleting suspicious e-mails. Even if it looks legitimate, keep in mind that criminals use this scheme to get you to provide personal information.

You can also get a virus on your computer simply by opening the e-mail, so be cautious. In addition to unfamiliar e-mails, look out for e-mails disguised as if they came from family members, co-workers, etc. If the message looks strange, double-check the sender address to see if it is actually from that person. Your gut feeling is usually right so delete the message immediately if it is actually not from a person you know.

• Look out for gift-card scams. Scammers aren’t just interested in stealing your identity, credit- or debit-card information, some want your gift cards too. Be wary of any websites or phone representatives that only take gift cards from other retailers—like Walmart or Google Play gift card—for payment. Any merchant who limits your payment options to gift cards only is usually trouble.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Tips

Be aware of retail tricks. From loyalty cards, decoy pricing to even email newsletters, merchants use these as incentives to get consumers to shop, especially during the holiday season.

Look for the best deals. The best deal-hunters are always well-prepared for Cyber Monday and Black Friday shopping. Before you shop take inventory of what you need, from holiday gifts to decorations.

Don’t get sidetracked. Your mission on Cyber Monday is to get the gifts you need at the price you want, so don’t buy stuff simply because you can save a lot of money on it.

Be wary of limited quantities. Some of the best deals on Cyber Monday have a ridiculously limited supply. Check the merchant’s e-mail promotion or website to find out when the sale starts. Most sales start at midnight and a good deal/item sells out within the first 15 to 30 minutes—if not seconds.