Helping you balance your online life

Aug 27th


Differences and Dangers When Shopping: Real World vs. Online

Online shopping has opened up worlds of convenience for busy mothers. Being able to purchase goods with the click of a mouse button means less time getting rebellious kids dressed, wrestling them into the car, and trying to keep them placated during the long drive to and from the department store.
However, just like the real world, the world of online shopping is not without hazards. Here are some of the most common shopping dangers, and how you can keep yourself, and your family, safer - both personally and financially.

Real-World Shopping Hazards

Smishing: A cousin of phishing (a form of email scam - see below), "smishing" scams take the form of an SMS or text message on your phone, usually declaring you a winner of a shopping spree, coupon, or other too-good-to-be-true offer. Smishers also frequently send fake "notifications" of compromised bank or PayPal accounts and ask you to "reset" your username and password via phone. Once they have your account info, your account might as well be theirs.
How to prevent it: Be wary of any number, text or call that you don't recognize, and call or contact your financial institution directly instead of calling back a strange number.

Credit Card Theft: Credit card theft doesn't always take the form of missing cards or huge, easy-to-spot charges. A common scam in recent years is for thieves to get a hold of your credit or debit card numbers and make an ongoing series of very small charges to your account - usually less than a full dollar - under bogus corporate names. The thieves are banking on you not bothering to find out what these charges are, or contact your bank about them.
How to prevent it: Carefully go over your bills each month, and keep an eye out for any unusual or unrecognized charges. Notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you spot anything suspicious. Don't wait!

Outright Theft: Not all real-world shopping dangers are high-tech. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft from cars are all still a common occurrence, especially around holidays, where busy shoppers are distracted and likely to let their awareness slip.
How to prevent it: Keep a firm grasp on your purse or bag at all times. Avoid shopping alone or at night, if possible. Always keep your car locked, and store gifts and goods in the trunk, or at least out of sight.

Online Shopping Dangers

Phishing: A common email scam, phishing is a fake email with instructions to reset your password, or making a special offer. The point of the scam is to get your account information. Banner ads and fake websites are also used to trap unsuspecting consumers.
How to prevent it: When shopping online, go directly to the site of choice - don't click on any links you get via email, or IM messages from friends, even if you're fairly certain they're legitimate.

Hacking: Passwords can be cracked, wireless networks compromised, and your personal information made vulnerable, all while shopping online.
How to prevent it: Use secure passwords and change them often. If you detect any suspicious activity, update antivirus / anti-malware software. Use secure passwords, change them often and run a system checkup that will provide an overall system security status for your antivirus, antispyware, firewall and Windows Update software.

Counterfeit Items: While the larger online retailers are generally reputable, anyone with a modicum of technical know-how can set up an e-commerce site in short order and sell goods. Even online reviews can be faked and slanted, making it easy for scammers to bilk unwary customers.
How to prevent it: Always shop from the most reputable online retailers, and watch out for imitators or suspicious-looking websites. Only trust your money to online stores with a long history and sterling reputation.

Liz King is an independent marketing consultant for AOL who contributes to AOL Computer Checkup. Liz is interested in how technology affects our daily lives and she tries (and often fails) to disconnect on weekends.