While “Black Friday” brings out the brick and mortar shopping crowds, it is “Cyber Monday” that kicks off the shopping season for internet-focused consumers. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks consumers to use care when shopping online on Cyber Monday and throughout the entire holiday season.
“Web technology and smartphone usage have revolutionized the way American consumers shop, but with those new tools comes new need for caution in your transactions,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Cybercriminals will be on the attack over the holiday season, and it is important to make sure you do not put your personal information in the wrong hands.”
When you enter your personal information into a website to make a purchase, make sure you are using a secure site. Secure sites start with “https” rather than “http.” Also, have a firewall and anti-virus software in place to protect your connection from hackers and identity thieves. While it is safest to shop from your own computer, if you need to use a public computer, be certain it has encryption software to scramble the purchase information.
DATCP provides the following tips to help keep your online shopping experience safe:
- Update the operating system and anti-virus software on your computer and smartphone. Before you even start your gift search online, make sure your systems are up-to-date with the latest patches and virus definitions installed.
- Know who you are dealing with. ID thieves can create websites that imitate and look like a legitimate business site. Do not trust a website based solely on its appearance. Always type the business’s URL into your address bar rather than clicking a link to it. If you're asked to provide your Social Security number, consider that a red flag of potential identity theft – legitimate merchants almost never require this information. Never give out personally identifiable information unless you initiate the contact and know that you are dealing with a legitimate business.
- Avoid unnecessary downloads. Keep your holiday spirit in check and avoid seasonal downloads like ringtones, screensavers and apps. Criminals could use this software to download a virus on your computer or phone. If you do add software to your computer or smartphone, download it from an official app store.
- Pay by credit or charge card for extra protection. The Fair Credit Billing Act gives consumers the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the credit card company investigates. If you find errors in your credit statement, report them to your credit card company within 60 days of receiving your statement. Never pay for online purchases in cash!
- Use search engines to check for scams – and for coupons. Key in a company or product name with words like “scam,” “review” and “complaint.” Read the reviews, but do not put your trust in one review. When you have made your decision, search for the store with terms like “discount” or “free shipping."
- Compare costs. Use a cost-comparison website to check prices, making sure you also consider shipping, handling and return fees.
- Read the fine print. Before submitting your order, carefully check return policies and restocking fees and find out who is responsible for the return shipping costs. Before you checkout, know exactly what item you are purchasing, when the items should be delivered and who to contact if they do not arrive when expected.
- Keep a paper trail. Print or save records of online transactions, item descriptions and copies of emails sent between you and the seller. Review credit card statements when you receive them to look for unauthorized charges.
For additional information or to file a consumer complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.