‘Tis the season to be vigilant when it comes to making internet purchases

You’ve been searching for a very popular squishy stuffed animal that’s sold out or on backorder everywhere. Then, an ad pops up on Facebook or Instagram, offering the very toy you’ve been trying to track down. Or maybe the item appears on an auction site with a much lower than expected “buy it now” price. Did you just win the holiday lottery? Probably not.

Scammers tend to kick it into overdrive during the holidays, according to the FBI, when more people are shopping online and also feeling pressure to purchase gifts for friends and family that will arrive on time. Non-delivery scams cost Americans more than $265 million last year with credit card fraud accounting for additional $129 million in losses, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2020 report.

With non-delivery scams, you order an item online and give your credit card information, your card is charged, then the item never shows up. Often online criminals use your account number and other information to try and steal more of your money or your identity.

The bottom line when it comes to online shopping? When a deal or sale seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some other tips from the FBI to help you avoid online holiday scams:

1. Check company reviews and feedback

When purchasing from a business for the first time, do some research and check the company for reviews. You can also go to the Better Business Bureau’s website to see if any complaints have been filed about the site in question. For online marketplace or auction websites, be sure to always check a seller’s feedback rating. Be wary of sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback or no ratings at all.

2. Know exactly who you are buying from

Before handing over credit card info, check a website’s URL at the top left hand corner of your screen to make sure it is legitimate and secure. A safe site should have “https” in the web address as well as a lock symbol. If it doesn’t, do not enter your information or initiate a transaction. On auction sites, avoid sellers who say they are authorized dealers or factory representatives for popular items in countries where those deals would be unlikely.

3. How you pay matters

Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement, or online account, often. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge. You can also set up text or email alerts to notify you when your credit card is used. Never wire money directly to a seller or pay for items using prepaid gift cards. These are popular ways for scammers to get your funds. Instead of using a gift card for your payment, criminals will take the money and you’ll likely never receive the item.

4. Don’t click unknown links

Never click on suspicious links or attachments in emails or texts, on websites, or social media. Criminals try to get you to click on links and then share personal information such as your name, passwords or even bank account numbers.

A new twist on the link scam is when you receive a text with a link to a receipt for something you did not purchase. Another danger of clicking on unknown links is that you could also be unknowingly downloading malware to your device. Don’t click the link. Instead, delete the text and block the number from your contacts.

5. Track your packages

When possible, get tracking numbers for online purchases, so you can ensure the items have been shipped and you can follow the delivery process.

This article by Jean Chatzky originally appeared on SavvyMoney blog, and is used by permission.

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