When you're online shopping, it's easy to get caught up in the thrill of the chase, but when you see a deal that seems almost too good to be true, you should slow down and take a big step back. Cyber criminals sometimes lure unsuspecting shoppers with amazing prices, rebates and discounts, taking their credit card information in exchange for a handful of magic beans. Here are some tips to remember when you're trolling the Internet for great deals:
- Be wary of rebates: Online retailers may offer you the chance to opt into a rebate program after you complete a purchase. Do not accept such offers, as even a single mouse click may be interpreted as permission to send your private information to a third-party marketing company. A 2010 Senate report found that even some major chains were guilty of engaging in such "unfair and deceptive sales tactics." Government officials have tried to crack down on such practices, but you should still always behave defensively when offering up your personal data online.
- Check your credit: If you do any shopping at all on the Internet, it's important to vigilantly guard against identity theft and keep a close eye on your credit history. Even if you never make purchases online, remember that cyber criminals can hack into stores' and restaurants' on-site financial processing. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus and you can add an extra layer of protection by investing in a credit monitoring service. While such services cannot guarantee your security they can alert you to certain indicators of fraud connected to your name.
- Look for encryption: You should only share personal information with sites that have secure website encryption, giving you extra protection against cyber criminals. Look for web addresses that begin with "https" and pages that have padlock symbols at the bottom. Some good news: Google recently announced that it will start favoring websites with security encryption in its search results, which could drive more companies to offer it. However, you should not rely on even trusted companies to totally protect you from credit fraud.
- Never wire money: Legitimate retailers will rarely, if ever, ask you to wire or directly transfer money. Any requests that you wire money should be viewed with extreme suspicion!