Protect Your Identity and Data

5 Tips for Safe Holiday Shopping

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The 2020 holiday season – like much of this year – promises to be unlike any other. Families are looking for meaningful ways to celebrate with loved ones without compromising their health. Experts predict this mindset will be a major driver of record high online sales as more consumers avoid the traditional in-store shopping experience.

Both Deloitte and Adobe Analytics are certainly enthusiastic regarding ecommerce, predicting growth in online holiday sales in the 25%-35% range from November to January 1. That would bring total ecommerce sales to a record $186-$192 billion.

Major retailers, like Walmart®, Target®, Best Buy® and Kohl’s® will be closed on Thanksgiving to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday with their families. Few retailers are expected to offer Black Friday in-store only deals. The good news: no more lining up for hours in the cold outside your favorite retailer, trying to get “the” hot gift of the season. That also means millions of people will take their shopping online – many for the first time. And this could introduce added risk to personal finances and identity.

Here are five tips to make the most of the ecommerce opportunity while also protecting yourself with good ‘online security hygiene.’

1. Act now - don't delay.

With the expected surge in sales, fulfillment centers will be hard pressed to keep up with consumer demand. If everyone were to wait to purchase until the last few weeks before the holidays, that would wreak havoc on supply chains. As a result, you risk getting your order delivered to your door late – or not at all.

Be sure to take advantage of the earlier discounts and promotions many retailers offer to incent earlier buys. That retail strategy may be working already. According to Adobe®, one-third of consumers plan to have their holiday shopping done by Black Friday.

2. Know your sources.

But beware: there are unscrupulous entities posing as legitimate businesses, often using deep discounts as a way to get your attention – along with your credit card and other key information. To avoid that risk, stick to known retailers and use ‘official’ mobile apps.

Check out the customer reviews and other trusted feedback to get a sense of the quality of the merchandise, how accurate expected delivery times are and what the customer experience is like with that vendor. For example, how easy are they to deal with when there are returns or other disputes?

Before completing a transaction, look at the URL for ‘https’ to indicate the site is secure. By encrypting any information you share on that site, the retailer makes it harder for it to be stolen. Doing your homework can help avoid disappointment or worse, financial risk.

3. Guard your wallet.

Using your credit card for holiday shopping is smart because it has built-in security. Most lenders will flag suspicious activity and limit your exposure to additional fraudulent transactions attempted. Also, be sure to  keep that card information secure. One tip –  don’t store your card numbers in your online retail accounts. That ‘convenience’ for you can also make it easier for hackers to grab your info and use it to their advantage. Make sure to monitor your own accounts as well.

Digital wallets – like Apple Pay®, PayPal® and Google Pay™ – can offer a fast, easy to use and secure payment option. When used, the vendor has no view to your bank or credit card information, protecting your identity should the retailer be hacked. Mobile wallets also offer 24/7 fraud monitoring, and thanks to zero-liability protection, a consumer would be reimbursed for any loss, fraud or unauthorized transaction. (For those purchases you make in person, it’s contactless; you just point your phone at the sales terminal.)

Similarly, prepaid debit cards or gift cards can add a layer of protection to your online shopping because they function more like cash and don’t provide access to your bank account or other financial information.

4. Phishing for information.

You see it throughout the year, but phishing emails tend to peak around the holidays. They often take the form of ‘too-good-to-be-true’ holiday deals. Or even more insidious, appeals for money to support a charitable organization (one that doesn’t exist). To validate a charity is real, you can check with the Better Business Bureau.

At times, phishing emails will carry branding from vendors you are familiar with – but a quick look at the URL will often expose an imposter. The best approach is to delete it, report it as spam and don’t click on embedded links or open attachments, or reply with any personal or financial information.

5. Get help.

What if, despite your best efforts to adopt online purchase best practices, something still goes wrong? For members with legal insurance, you have access to a network of attorneys who can help you recover financial losses and repair your reputation, if your identity is compromised.

Online purchases are essentially contracts between you and the retailer once you click on the “I agree” button. You have an expectation to receive these purchases in good condition and within the timeframe promised. If you feel you’ve fallen victim to a “bait and switch” tactic, you may be entitled to a refund or exchange if the goods fail to live up to expectations or were not delivered at all. For “big ticket” purchases like electronics or jewelry, your attorney can advise you or work to enforce these contracts or warranties.

More importantly, if your identity is stolen, ARAG can put you in contact with plan services and resources1 which may help you with the following:

  • Properly notifying your bank, credit card company, credit reporting agencies and government agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security administration,
  • Getting fraudulent information deleted from your credit report,
  • Dealing with debt collections related to this theft, and
  • Guiding you through the process to recovery.

Being smart online can help you make the most of the holiday shopping season – and legal insurance gives you the added protection and peace of mind that it’s there if you need it.

1Please check your specific plan coverage or call ARAG Customer Care to verify the identity theft services and resources your plan provides.

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