Online sales are expected to surge this holiday season. So how do we gear up to keep our data safe and avoid holiday shopping scams?


The holiday shopping season is underway, with plenty of bargains, solid sales numbers and enough festivities to make it seem almost like a normal year. Just don’t let online phishing scams, overspending and other perils ruin it.

This is a time when many consumers can really dig themselves into a financial hole if they’re not careful. Here are some seasonal risks to beware of, along with suggestions for keeping your personal information, and money, safe.

Heed e-commerce security tips

Online shopping will grow at double-digit rates this holiday season, according to estimates by the National Retail Federation and others. While convenience and good deals are among the lures, consumers need to be cautious.

Shameka Walker, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, recently provided some updated tips for safe remote shopping. These include having late-version antivirus software installed on your computer, taking time to make sure the online merchants or sellers you deal with are legitimate, keeping records of online purchases until you receive the goods and sticking with secure checkout sites. Those are website addresses that start with “HTTPS,” where the “S” stands for secure.

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She and others also recommend paying with credit cards, which provide added protection compared with debit cards, checks, cash and other forms of payment.

With credit cards, you may dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payments while the dispute is investigated. If someone else uses your card without permission, your liability generally is limited to $50, she said. Many credit card companies improve on this and won’t hold consumers responsible for any unauthorized charges —  in addition to providing extended product warranties, reward points and other benefits.

Monitor accounts regularly

The holiday shopping season can be a good time to adopt best practices regarding credit cards and other forms of payments, if only because you’re doing more spending, possibly at unfamiliar retailers.

Such tips include regularly monitoring your accounts for accurate transactions and setting up text alerts so that you’re notified of unusual activity.

“Anytime (a transaction) is over $25, I’m going to get an alert,” said Cyndie Martini, president and CEO of Member Access Processing, a company that, among other services, coaches credit unions and their members on credit and debit card use.

<b>Set up transaction alerts on bank and credit cards.</b> That way, you will learn quickly if someone is attempting to use one of your accounts. Financial firms will let you set up the alerts for free. Make them part of your routine monitoring efforts. (Photo: Getty Images)

While a $25 threshold might seem low to many people, triggering an excessive number of alerts, fraudsters often make a lot of modest-dollar transactions in hopes consumers won’t notice, Martini said. At any rate, you can