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The best ways to shop online this Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Keep your information safe when shopping online this Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Each year Thanksgiving marks the start of two things. 1. The planning of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. 2.  A frantic search for the best deals during the holiday shopping season. According to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) that was published by CNN, 3 million more consumers shopped in stores and online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2016 compared to the prior year. The data also reported that 5 million more people shopped online in 2016 than the previous year, and 3 million less shopped in store.

Sales for the 2017 holiday season are expected to increase between 3.6-4.0%

The statistic was not surprising to me. Have you ever been in a store and grabbed the last door buster on Black Friday? Suddenly the store turns into a football field and you’re racing to the register like you just received a return kick.

Online shopping also has it dangers.  but I have identified 3 ways to improve your shopping safety online.

#1 – Identifying Fraud and Security Threats

With the increase in online shopping traffic there has also been an increase in credit card fraud. Most people think that their personal information is stolen during the checkout process on a website, but fraudsters target their victims before their shopping experience begins. In 2014, 54 percent of fraud attempts were initiated by phone, and 23 percent by email. The remaining 33 percent happened during checkout or through solicitations such as direct mail. So how can you keep your information safe from cyber criminals?

Before you make your purchase, there are five ways to check for possible fraud or security threats.

  1. Verify the seller – Marketplaces like Amazon.com offer thousands of vendors selling similar products. Most people will find the lowest selling price and make their purchase decision that way. This is dangerous if you have not verified the seller is who they claim to be. You can use Google search to quickly verify a company. Real businesses will have information that has been indexed by Google. The example below shows the Google search results for Top Greener Inc.

    TOPGREENER Inc Trusted Online Retailer
    Company reviews help consumers like yourself. Share yours by clicking the image above.
  2. Contact the seller – Contact the seller to ask a question. Even if it is a simple one, it can help you further establish the seller’s validity. It is best to contact them by phone. If a business only has email as a contact option you should submit your request and time the response. If they promptly respond withing a 24 hour time frame it is a good sign that they are a real business.
  3. Verify SSL website security – Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is the standard for website protection. In the top left corner of your browser address bar look for a green lock symbol. Hover over the icon and the credentials for the verifying company will be displayed. If a website does not have this icon displayed, then any information you enter is not protected.  The example below shows the site address for TOPGREENER.com.
SSL Secured Website, Top Greener, TOPGREENER.com
An SSL safe site will display a green lock icon in the address bar along with information on the verifying domain host.

Filter Emails– You can protect yourself against email threats by having spam blockers activated, but some message still get past these security measures. Look for the following to spot the harmful emails.

  1. Unrecognized Sender – If you don’t know where the email came from or why, then don’t open the message.
  2. Attachments – Never click on attachments that you are not expecting from a company such as an invoice copy or return label.
  3. Phishing – This is an attempt to gain sensitive information. Never provide personal information through email solicitations.
  4. Prize Notifications – If you don’t remember entering a contest then the message is likely fake.

Pop-Up Ads – These advertisements are not only annoying, but are also a leading threat in stealing personal information and harming your computer; online retailers will have pop-ups on their site usually for newsletter subscriptions, but can still pose threats such as the following.

  1. Redirect Links – Never follow a link from a pop-up to a new website. Even if the site appears to be secured the chances are you are being “phished” for information.
  2. Third Party Applications – Never install applications that are downloaded through pop-up advertisements. These are typically virus programs

#2 – Checking Product Quality

Even after verifying the legitimacy of a business, there is still a danger of being suckered into buying something that isn’t what you expected. I’m sure you remember #TheDress viral sensation that sparked debates over whether the item was “Black and Blue” or “White and Gold”.

#THEDRESS- 2015 Viral Phenomenon

Is the dress color “Black and Blue” or “White and Gold”?

There are two quick ways you can check product quality online so that you don’t end up with an item you didn’t expect.

#3 – Returning or Exchanging a product

Returns are a big concern for consumers who buy online. Sure, you got free shipping when you bought that 50” flat screen, but now you need to return it. Some sellers ask customers to pay for the return shipping. A second return problem is that sellers may refuse to accept the item! This can happen both online and off. The best way to protect yourself in either case is to read the business’s return policy before making a purchase. 30-Day’s may be the standard, but it is not universally applied wherever you shop. Also, be sure to read the privacy policies and terms of use before placing your order.

Before placing your order, overlook the privacy notice and conditions of use which are usually found around the order button.

Exchanges can also be problematic due to stock availability. This is issue is unavoidable, but in comparison to shopping at stores, making an exchange only requires a phone call. If you purchased that high demand item from the last store in town then you’ll be driving back to wait in line.

So, this coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday will you be out in the lines waiting to avoid being tackled, or will you cozy up to the keyboard and see what deals you can find in the comfort of your home? If you have a security tip, or shopping experience you would like to share, I encourage you to comment below.