Online shopping has revolutionized the way that we search for, buy, and sell products and services. You can now go grocery shopping without ever getting up off of the couch. Products are delivered to your front door at lightning-fast speed, sometimes even on the same day they are ordered. You can easily buy products that you see in posts and videos on your favorite social media feeds. Ten minutes ago, you had never heard about freeze dried candy. But now you must try it, and already have three bags being shipped to your house!
While online shopping has many benefits, it has also created plenty of new opportunities for scammers. Let’s discuss some of the most common online shopping scams and some best practices for staying safe while you shop your heart out online.
Common online shopping scams
- Phishing emails
Phishing scams usually attempt to extract sensitive information by getting you to click on a link and share your personal information, believing you are interacting with a retailer you trust. Common examples include fake shipping notifications that there is a problem with your order, or a promotional email about steep discounts on coveted items. In spoofing emails, the sender details (name, email address, etc.) are changed ever so slightly to make them seem legitimate. For example, they may change an upper-case “I” to a lower-case “L” so it visually it looks correct. (Can you see the difference between l and I)?
- Fake stores and web domains
Scammers will set up fake websites that look like legitimate retailers to get your personal and payment information. In return, you may only receive a knockoff product, or nothing at all.
- Scams on online marketplaces
Even on trusted websites like Amazon, Walmart, or eBay, it is important to remember that these sites are run as online marketplaces. This means numerous sellers are allowed to offer their products on the website and not everything is being sold by the retailer that manages the website. Unfortunately, scammers open fake storefronts on these marketplaces to sell knockoff products or not send anything at all after your purchase.
- Fake discount offers
Be wary of fake discount websites and links that are not promoted by official business accounts. Clicking on these links may put you at risk for a malware attack. If the deal seems too good to be true and it is not being advertised by the official retailer, it probably isn’t real.
- Malicious ads
Much like phishing emails, malicious ads look similar to ads created by trusted businesses. They may promote a product you are interested in or a sale at your favorite store. Instead of going to a trusted website, these ads may lead you to a fake site designed to collect your personal information, or it may automatically download malware onto your device.
Best practices for safe online shopping
- Use a secure connection
Secure websites are encrypted and have a web address that starts with “https.” Do not visit sites or enter personal information on a website that begins with “http,” without the “s” at the end. We also recommend that you avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi networks. Personal information that you enter on a public network is not secure and may be intercepted by scammers.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited communications
Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you. Do not click on links, open attachments, or respond to unexpected emails or text messages.
Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up window. Perpetrators regularly use pop-ups to spread malicious software.
Independently verify sales and discount offers by visiting a retailer’s official site. Do this by typing their official website into your browser instead of following links in suspicious emails.
- Use reputable payment methods
When checking out during an online transaction, look for reputable payment methods like PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, etc. Using these services will open a secure connection between you and the payment provider, which is safer than entering your card information directly into the retailer’s website. Avoid using wire transfers and money orders to pay for goods and services.
- Check the reviews and ratings
Look for reviews that have been marked as a “verified purchase review” by the retailer. This means that the reviewer actually purchased the product and is more likely to be an authentic review of the product. Be wary of overly positive or negative reviews, especially reviews that avoid discussing details about the product. These reviews may have been paid for and may have been written by people who have never used the product.
- Regularly monitor your financial accounts
We recommend that you regularly monitor your bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. If you see transactions that look unfamiliar, contact your financial institution immediately.
You can also set up automated alerts for your accounts through Card Control. Card Control allows you to block and unblock your cards, order replacement cards, activate new cards, set customized alerts, and choose which types of transactions to allow. You can customize the alerts by setting dollar amount thresholds for when the card is used or set up alerts for all transactions. With Card Control, you can also choose transaction types you would like to block.
Card Control is available in both the Vantage West mobile app and online banking. The widget can be accessed by selecting More>Card Control.
- Protect your devices
We recommend that you never share your online banking password or username with anyone. When creating passwords for your devices and online accounts, use a combination of upper-case letter(s), lower case letter(s), number(s), and special character(s) such as !@#$%^&*. You can also use biometric features like facial recognition and your fingerprint to protect your devices and accounts.
We also recommend using multi-factor authentication, which means that you use a couple of ways to ensure your identity is proven on your accounts. We recommend that you enable multi-factor on all important online accounts, especially online banking.
What to do if you suspect you have been scammed
If you believe your device, account, or personal information may have been compromised, rest assured, we are here to help. Follow these three steps:
- Change your online banking credentials, including your username and password, immediately
- This can be done in the Settings > Security section of online and mobile banking
- Contact us immediately at 1.800.888.7882
- Describe the situation to us so we can help find a solution
- Have your computer/mobile device scanned for malware
Ready to learn more? Head to our Security Center for more information on how to keep yourself and your financial information safe.