Shopping Safely Online is Important! 

Shopping safely online is more important now than ever before. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online sales have been skyrocketing. More and more of us are opting to get our basic necessities via online shopping.

There are dangers lurking anytime you are required to provide personally identifiable information (PII), such as passwords and payment information online.  You need to be cyber smart to reduce the risk of becoming a cyber crime victim.

Shopping Safely Online
Don’t Use Your Debit Card

Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards

When it comes to shopping safely online, one of the best tips I can give you is to use your CREDIT card instead of your debit card. If you have the choice, you should always use your credit card instead of your debit card when making online purchases.

Debit Cards Are Tied to Your Bank Account

We often forget that every time we make a purchase using a debit card, the funds are withdrawn directly from our checking account. When making purchases with a credit card, you’re using the bank’s money. It’s a line of credit, not real money from your checking account.

With a credit card, it’s the bank’s money that’s on the line. Therefore, you’re not going to be held liable for fraud. The bank will need to deal with it.  When it comes to credit card fraud, the most you could be liable for is $50 and the majority of banks waive the fee.

Debit cards however, do not offer the same fraud protections as a credit card. With a debit card you should be able to get your money back when and IF you report fraud promptly, but it could take 10 days or more to get it back. While the bank is investigating the fraud, your account is frozen, so you will have no access to the funds in that account. This could be a huge problem, if you need that money to pay your bills, and even more so, if you have bills that are set up for auto-pay.

There are Different Rules for Debit Cards

If an unauthorized transaction appears on your bank statement (but your card or PIN has NOT been stolen) you won’t be liable for the debit if you report it within 60 days after your account statement is sent to you.  BUT – if the charge goes unreported for more than 60 days, your money could be lost. When you report the theft, the bank will investigate and decide if you they are required to credit the money back to your account.

Alternatively, the time frame is much shorter if your card or PIN was lost or stolen. You only have 2 business days in order to limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges. After those 2 business days have passed, you’re liable for $500 of the amount lost, between 3 and 60 days. After 60 days, you are liable for the entire amount of your losses. You must, therefore, be sure to make a report as soon as you learn that your card is missing or that your PIN has been stolen.

How to Report a Suspicious Debit Charge

If you spot a fraudulent transaction, immediately call the card provider’s toll-free number on the back of the card. Ask them if you need to follow up with written correspondence. You can also read your monthly statement or error resolution notice for how and where to report any suspicious transactions. Lastly, if you get a replacement card, with a new number, remember to update any automatic payments that were linked to the original card.

More Tips for Shopping Safely Online

1.) Even when using a credit card, be careful where you shop online. Scammers have already set up millions of bogus online website shops. Especially since the Coronavirus pandemic began, fraudsters are trying to sell everything from COVID-19 DIY testing kits, to cleaning disinfectants and medical supplies.

2.) Only shop on websites that you know and trust and type the URL of the website yourself, instead of clicking on any links or attachments in emails. Be careful of your spelling too! Scammers often set up websites with incorrectly spelled names of common websites.

3.) When logging on to a website, utilize two-factor authentication (2FA) to ensure that the only person who has access to your account is you.

4.) Use long strong, stealth passwords or use a password manager. Always, use a separate stealth password for important sites you log on to. For example, be sure to use a separate password when logging into your online banking account than the one you will use to log on to your Facebook or Amazon account.

5.) Never use your debit card for recurring charges on the internet. Use a prepaid card with a limited amount of money available on it.

6.) Do not use public Wi-Fi at an airport, a hotel, a restaurant, etc. for online purchases. If you have no choice, then be sure to confirm the exact name of the network and login procedures to ensure that the network is legitimate.

7.) Use only websites that begin with “https://” when shopping online.  Watch out for website extensions.  Most online shopping website addresses end in “.com”

8.) Privacy is important too. Here’s a link to your privacy settings on Google.

You can read a prior article I wrote about shopping safely online here


Holiday Shopping Safety

Tis the Season…to learn about Holiday Shopping Safety!

Scammers love this time of year, because there are many opportunities for them to separate you from your money. To be a smarter and safer consumer, you need to educate yourself, so you can avoid falling victim. Here are holiday shopping safety tips to help keep your holidays merry.

Holiday Shopping Safety

Spam Phishing Emails will be finding their way into your inbox. These emails have urgent messages or will contain offers for bargain prices or discount coupons. These spam emails will always include a clickable link or an attachment to open. If you click on the provided link or attachment, you will infect your device with Malware. It is advisable to never click on email links or attachments.

Package Delivery Scams are a Fraudster’s favorite trick. They know that most of you are either sending or expecting to receive a package during the holidays. Many millions of spam emails, pretending to be from known shippers (like the Post Office, FedEx or UPS) will be sent out to unsuspecting victims. The emails will include a link to click on that lets you “track” a problem with a package you recently mailed or “track” a package that’s on its way to your house.

E-cards are a fun, easy & inexpensive way to send holiday cheer to family and friends. Make sure any e-card you receive comes from a well-known reputable e-card company. Do NOT open it if the sender is unknown to you.  Many fake e-cards contain spyware and viruses.

Gift cards make popular holiday gifts. Be sure to only purchase them from official retail stores or websites that you know and trust. Beware of websites or ads offering steep discounts to buy their gift cards. Chances are the cards are fraudulent or stolen cards from third-party vendors.

Fake websites are set up all over the internet, that sell stuff that doesn’t even exist. They will offer fantastic bargains that are truly too good to be true. Also, beware of copy-cat websites that appear to be the real shopping site.  Some fake websites use similar or misspelled names of legitimate retailers. You may not realize that you’re on a fake website and enter your password or credit card information. You think you actually made a purchase, but your merchandise will never arrive and your credit card information gets sent straight to the criminal and will be used to make illegal purchases.

Fake online Ads will appear on social media sites and even on legitimate News websites. The ads exist to entice you to click on links that will ask you to provide personal information. If you see an Ad for something you like, instead of clicking on that Ad, go to the retailer’s website directly. If you don’t know the web address, use Google to search for it. The real legitimate website will be at the top of the Google results – about 99% of the time.

Public Wi-Fi is neither private nor secure. Never ever use public Wi-Fi to shop online. You can never be sure whether you’re using the authorized Wi-Fi of the retailer or actually the Wi-Fi of the thief, who is likely sitting a few tables away. When using public Wi-Fi, it is advisable to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for better online security.

Debit Cards should NEVER be used while shopping online. Your debit card is tied to the money in your checking account. You have better consumer fraud protections when using your credit card. Better yet, use a gift card or prepaid debit card for all of your online purchases.


Here’s a good website to learn more about Shopping Safely Online

Here’s an article I wrote about Online Shopping

RISK FREE TRIAL SCAM – Try Before You Buy?

Have you seen advertisements online or received emails that offer you a Risk Free Trial?  All they ask is that you only pay a modest shipping fee. You say to yourself “What have I got to lose”?  My answer to that question is – PLENTY!

BEWARE: Most of these “Risk Free Trial” offers have a downside.

Risk Free Trial Online
ALWAYS Read the Fine Print!

Risk Free Trial offers offers are advertised by scammers or unscrupulous companies. They often tout names of celebrities, who supposedly use and endorse their products. Many celebrities have had to sue these fraudsters, to get their name removed from these bogus endorsements.

What starts out as a risk-free trial, might end up costing you loads of money!

The goal of the risk free trial offer is to make you a long-term customer. The fine-print (which most people don’t read) hides buying terms, designed to entrap you. Once they have your credit card information, for the shipping cost of your free-trial, it will be nearly impossible to stop them from continuing deliveries and billing you.

Had you actually read the fine-print, you might have discovered that there was a time-limit to cancel your order. If you didn’t cancel by the deadline date, you would be billed for an additional shipment.  Even if you cancel within the time limit, they won’t make it easy to let you off the hook. They’ll charge you for early cancellation or other additional bogus fees.

The end game is to continuously keep billing you every month.

You may not have noticed that there was a box automatically checked, by default, when you placed your order. That checked box puts conditions on returns and cancellations that are strict enough to make it nearly impossible to cancel. There may be a default box you forgot to un-check that illegally signed you up for additional products, services or clubs fees.

TIPS – What You Should Do:

  • If you see credit card charges you didn’t agree to, contact the company directly.
  • If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge.
  • As a last resort, cancel your credit card- so they can’t keep charging it.
  • NEVER make online purchases using your DEBIT card. It is directly tied to your checking account, which could get cleaned-out in no time if it gets stolen or compromised.
  • Use a pre-paid credit card or gift card that has a ‘finite’ amount of funds available. Once the funds are used up, they can’t keep billing you for additional or recurring charges.

If you’ve been wrongly charged for a free-trial offer, report it to the FTC and file a complaint by going here:



Because puppies are a popular holiday gift, it’s important to know the warning signs of Puppy Scams. I’m sure you’ve seen Ads on the internet displaying photos of adorable puppies who “need good loving homes”. Many times there’s a sad sob heart-wrenching story that goes along with the Ad. These Ads are specifically designed to pull at your heartstrings and entice animal lovers everywhere to want to adopt them.

Warning Signs of Puppy Scams

Typical Warning Signs of Puppy Scams

This scam usually involves a fake website that purports to be the website of a breeder of purebred kennel club registered dogs. Keep in mind that anyone can create a website that appears to be legitimate and anyone can steal the name and logo of a legitimate breeder.

The fake website or fake Ad will display photos of puppies that they don’t own and puppies that are really not for sale at all. The photos are copies taken from the websites and Ads of legitimate sellers or animal rescue organizations. The Ads talk about the dog’s personality and background. They offer the pet for sale at a low price or may even offer the puppy “free to a good home”.

Once a victim is hooked, the victim is instructed to wire money and given instructions as to where they go to pick up their new puppy. The scammer oftentimes requires additional fees to be paid to cover shipping costs, veterinarian exams, required shots, crating fees and even Insurance.

Once your money is sent to the fraudster, the victim is given flight information to pick up their puppy. Convincingly, the notice to pick up the dog often comes via email instructions that appear to come from a legitimate Airline. The email is, of course, a forgery. Once the victim gets to the airport to pick up their new puppy, there is no puppy waiting for them.  There never was a puppy for sale in the first place! Keep in mind, this scam works for all types of pets, not just puppies.

Tips to avoid this happening to you:
  • If the price keeps increasing, because of additional fees, recognize this as a Red Flag.
  • Never buy a dog without seeing the dog and the facility that is selling the dog.
  • Get an independent Vet report on the puppy instead of the one provided by the seller.
  • Check out the seller with the American Kennel Club to confirm legitimacy.
  • Do a reverse image of the pet’s photo by right clicking on the photo and choose “Copy Image Location”. Then paste it onto Google and select the option to “search by image”. If the photo appears in other Ads, don’t engage with the seller. You can also do this on to see if the photo appears on other websites. It’s a Red Flag if it does.
  • If you’re told that a courier company is being used to transport the dog, be sure to check out the courier company’s legitimacy and ask if they have an open order to ship your dog.
  • Be wary of anyone selling anything who requires you to send them money via a bank wire. This is the preferred way a fraudster likes to receive money. Once you wire money, you can never get that money refunded back to you.



It’s important to take several steps to help keep your online data safe. During the holiday shopping season, shoppers are looking for the perfect gifts. At the same time, criminals are looking for sensitive data. This data includes passwords, credit or debit card numbers, financial accounts and especially Social Security numbers.

Online Data on Santa's List

Anyone with an online presence should do these few simple things to protect their identity and keep online data safe from predators and fraudsters.

  • Shop at familiar online retailers. Generally, sites with an “s” in “https” at the start of the URL, are secure. Users can also look for the “lock” icon in your browser’s URL bar. That said, some criminals may get a security certificate, so the “s” may not always mean a site is legitimate.
  • Avoid unprotected Wi-Fi. Users should never do online financial transactions when using unprotected public Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is never private. Unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots may allow thieves to view your transactions. Use a virtual private network to keep your data private.
  • Recognize and avoid phishing emails that pose as a trusted source. These emails can come from a source that looks like a legitimate bank or even the IRS. These emails almost always include a link that is tainted or takes the user to a fake website. From there, the thieves can steal usernames and passwords.
  • Keep a clean machine. This includes computers, phones and tablets. Users should install security software to protect against malware that may steal data or install Ransomware. This software also protects against viruses that may damage files. Be sure to always keep your software updated and set them to update automatically.
  • Use passwords that are strong, long and unique. Experts suggest a minimum of 10 characters. Use a combination of upper-case and lower-case letters plus some numbers and symbols mixed in. Use phrases or a sentence. It is most important that you ALWAYS use a different password for each of your important online accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication when available. Some financial institutions, email providers and social media sites allow users to set their accounts for multi-factor authentication. This means users may need a security code, usually sent as a text to their mobile phone, in addition to a username and password.
  • Sign up for account alerts. Some financial institutions will send email or text alerts to an account holder when there is a withdrawal or change to their accounts. Generally, people can check their account profile to see what added protections may be available.
  • Encrypt sensitive date and protect it with a password. People who keep financial records, tax returns or any personal information on their computer should protect this data. Users should also back up important data to an external source. When disposing of a computer, mobile phone or tablet, it is extremely important that people make sure they wipe the hard drive of all information, including their printer, before disposing or trashing.

For additional tips, read my previous article about how to Shop Safely on Cyber Monday


If you intend to do any gift shopping online, here’s some suggestions to help you shop safely on Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday is a marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Wikipedia defines the term Cyber Monday as a day created by marketing companies to persuade consumers to stay home and shop online instead of having to brave the large crowds on Black Friday.

Cyber Monday shopping online

Cyber Monday is quickly becoming one of the most lucrative shopping days of the year for retailers. They will be promoting great deals through their websites and social media channels. But, consumers need to know how to shop safely on Cyber Monday and beyond…

First, you must make sure you are on a trusted legitimate website from a well-known retailer. Be careful not to misspell the website name. Imposters intentionally create fake websites using a misspelled name of a legitimate merchant or a name that is very similar to a legitimate retailer.

Next, you should be sure that the website address begins with HTTPS. The ‘S’ in HTTPS means that the website is using encryption to safeguard the personal information you enter when making your purchase. You can also use a browser plug-in called “HTTPS Everywhere”, for a more secure internet experience.

Once you decide to make a purchase, the merchant will ask you to begin by setting up an account. People mistakenly believe that if they use the “check out as a guest” feature, it means the merchant won’t store their information or add them to their email marketing list. Yes – they will!

There are 3 steps required in the process of shopping online and tips on how to safely navigate them:
  • You need to provide an email address. The retailer needs an email address so they can contact you if there’s a problem with your order. Instead of providing your usual regular email address, create a throwaway email address. You should just use this throwaway email address whenever you’re shopping online.
  • You need to create a Password. This is the single biggest security step consumers need to take to protect themselves online. It’s extremely important to create a stealth password. Preferably one that a cybercriminal can’t crack! A good password can mean the difference between keeping your personal info secure or handing it over to a hacker. Always use a unique separate password for each of your online accounts. Make your password long and nonsensical. Make up a sentence or silly phrase using upper and lower case letters and mix in numbers and symbols.
  • You need to pay for your purchase. There are various methods you can use to pay, such as a credit or debit card, gift card or mobile payment. But the safest recommended way to pay is by using a low-limit prepaid card for all of your online purchases. When you use a low-limit card, crooks won’t be able to make additional charges on it. This is especially important for any purchase that involves free trial offers or recurring charges. Never use your debit card online because it is tied to the money in your checking account. You will have very little recourse if your debit card gets compromised. Keep these tips in mind, so you can shop safely on Cyber-Monday! I hope you find some really good holiday bargains!