It’s almost time for our new, socially distanced Black Friday 2020! As we’ve mentioned in a few recent blog posts this month, online shopping in the COVID-19 era means that more of us will be shopping online than ever. 

Our goal is to empower you to protect how you shop online and learn to spot red flags. This week we have some final tips you can use to protect your financial data, too. 

First, it’s important to remember that many credit card companies offer built-in buyer protections for cardholders. Unlike with a debit card, your credit card transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. When possible, try and use a credit card for online purchases. 

But what protections do other companies and payment services offer? 

  • Paypal: Paypal offers a range of security protection for online shoppers, including “purchase protection” that reimburses the full purchase price plus any original shipping costs. However, it doesn’t cover what it calls “Send Money transactions to friends or family.”
  • Venmo: Owned by PayPal, Venmo is a financial-social network hybrid for money transfers. Venmo allows you to make payments using Venmo balance, bank account, debit card, and credit card. Venmo offers credit-card protection under its Venmo Purchase Program. However, it doesn’t protect purchases made with a debit card (“your debit card issuer is not required by law to provide you with protection against items that you do not receive or that are significantly not as described.”) or wire transfer (“your bank is not required by law to provide you with protection against items that you pay for with a bank transfer but that you do not receive or that are significantly not as described.”)
  • Zelle: Unlike a credit card, Zelle does not offer a protection program for any authorized payments using Zelle (i.e., if you don’t receive the item you ordered or the item is not as you expected).
  • Debit card. As you can see with Venmo’s statement on debit cards, this is not a recommended way to shop online! But if you either don’t have a credit card or simply don’t want to use one, consider using a pre-paid debit card. You can load it with only the money you put into it. This is a safer bet because that way, hackers can’t access your entire checking account. 
  • Wire transfer. This is not a recommended way to shop online. 

In addition to the above financial best practices, here are more common-sense strategies for online transactions: 

  • Don’t email your financial information. It’s a definite red flag if an online retailer is asking for your credit card number or bank account details over email. 
  • Look at the site’s privacy policy. Most people don’t read a store’s terms of service or privacy policy. But it doesn’t hurt to know what information the website’s collecting and whether they share with third-parties. (Run the other way if the website doesn’t even have a privacy policy listed at all). 
  • Do a quick search of the company online. Search for the URL on RealWebsiteReviews.com or look for reports on the Better Business Bureau’s website.
  • Make sure the URL contains HTTPs and the lock padlock. It means the page is encrypted. You never want to pay on a site that isn’t secure. 
  • Look for contact information. Is there an address and legitimate-looking contact information? In the case you need to dispute a charge — or never receive your item at all — how would you get track down the seller? 
  • Look for security trust seals. At the bottom of the page, look for security verifications with the words “secure” or “verified” to ensure that the website works with a security partner and has HTTPS security as well.
  • Look for real reviews. Does the site or product have zero reviews or past ratings? That could be a red flag that the company isn’t authentic. 
  • Always use protection. A VPN like Ghostery Midnight will ensure you’re surfing safely from store to store and that cybercriminals can’t sniff out your sensitive financial data. A virtual private network becomes, essentially, like a secure tunnel to keep your information shielded from anyone else on your network. 

Finally, here are additional resources if you have a bad transaction and need to report online shopping fraud: