6 tips to shop online safely this holiday season

Lower the chances of credit card fraud spoiling your holidays

Over the shoulder view of woman's hand purchasing Christmas gift online with smartphone and making mobile payment with credit card against illuminated Christmas tree.
"If you find a deal that seems too good to be true or you receive a link that's a bit questionable; it probably is"
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With holiday shopping now in full swing, there's a solid chance you'll be placing an order online sometime in the next month. Not only does online shopping offer convenience, it also allows you to have all possible options (and prices) right at your fingertips. But everything has its pros as well as its cons, and shopping online is no exception. 

According to CNBC Select, "the holidays are a peak time for thieves to take advantage of consumers that are buying more items and can therefore easily miss fraudulent charges amid a long list of transactions." And online retailers are a particularly ripe target, as CNBC Select noted that "when you shop online or from your mobile device, you may be targeted by fraudsters that send you fake emails or texts advertising too-good-to-be-true deals."

The good news is there are steps you can take to lower the chances of credit card fraud spoiling your holiday season.

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1. Stick to shopping on trusted websites only

The best bet when online shopping is to start "by typing in the addresses of sites you know and trust, rather than following external links," according to Experian. But if you are following an external link, make sure to scrutinize the URL. Look to see if the website is actually what it purports to be, especially if you've clicked on an ad on social media. Further, per CNBC Select, "before completing a purchase online, check that the URL begins with 'https' and that there's a small lock icon that confirms it’s a secure site."

2. Avoid storing your credit card with retailers

As convenient as it may seem, do not store your credit card information in your online shopping account. As Experian explained, "doing so could allow a criminal who obtains your shopping account password to make purchases without even having to know your card number." In other words, it's worth the hassle to stand up to go get your credit card to enter the information (in that time, you may even end up reconsidering the purchase).

3. Think twice before clicking

As you may have already experienced this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you're likely to get inundated with text messages, emails, and ads over the holiday season. Still, it's important that you don't get click-happy. "If you find a deal that seems too good to be true or you receive a link that's a bit questionable; it probably is," Yahoo Finance noted.

If you're not familiar with the sender or something seems off, play it safe and "simply delete the message and block the sender," CNBC Select advised. You can always contact the merchant or financial institution directly with any questions.

4. Take advantage of added security features

If security features are offered — either through a website or your credit card — don't pass them up. For instance, per CNBC Select, "many online accounts let you set up two-factor authentication, which provides an added layer of security." Other options are "using virtual credit card numbers or mobile payment services," Forbes reported. Further, according to Yahoo Finance, "many credit cards have the option for activity alerts, which will notify you via text or email when you make a purchase."

5. Practice good online hygiene

All of the above is for naught if you aren't surfing the web in a safe manner. It may seem basic, but that's also why it can be easy to forget. As you're shopping for loved ones (or yourself), make sure you "don't conduct credit card transactions in public places, such as libraries and airports, and on public Wi-Fi," advised Nerdwallet, and limit sharing your credit card information. It's also important to maintain strong online passwords — per Nerdwallet, they should "include random combinations of letters, numbers and special characters" and be "different for each account, ideally." You should also update them routinely.

6. Regularly review your credit card transactions

Last but not least, keep an extra close eye on things amid the holiday shopping season. Consider signing up for transaction alerts on your credit card, and when you receive your statement, actually review it. As CNBC Select suggested, "if you notice anything suspicious, contact your card issuer right away to dispute the transaction."

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