(3TV/CBS 5) -- The holiday season always drives online purchase volume to the highest levels of the year. It's also the time when those with malicious intents step up their tactics.
Q: What are the latest online shopping safety tips?
Beware of elaborate phishing scams
One of the more sophisticated scams incorporates a fully functional website that looks like it's selling popular and hard-to-get items at great pricing. Creating a fake shopping website that looks exactly like the website of a popular retailer is pretty easy, so you can't always believe what you're seeing. The scammers then take to social media and web comments to link to these "amazing deal websites" to try to snare unsuspecting bargain shoppers.
When you're online, take a close look at the entire web address. Fake sites often use elaborate tricks to hide the fact that you aren't on the actual retailer's website.
Consider installing a free web browser extension such as Trend Micro Check. It actively scans every link that you're presented with and warns you when something is suspicious.
Remember that retailers' apps are safer
Fake shopping sites target those using a web browser to do their shopping, so an easy way to avoid being tricked is to do all your shopping via the mobile apps of popular retailers.
Clever email scams
Email is another tool scammers use. Be leery of messages that appear to be from a popular retailer with a tracking number or an attachment that claims to contain your tracking information. Odds are a cyberthief is just waiting for you to click that link and give them access to your device or personal information
Always write down your tracking number when you make a purchase so you can manually go to the shipping company's website to track your order. If you forgot to write it down, log into your account with the retailer to get the tracking number from your purchase history. Clicking a link in an email message is potentially dangerous. Avoid it when you can.
Also, watch for emails claiming to be from the "fraud department" or "support" asking you to verify a purchase. Never interact with any links or phone numbers in the message; go to the retailer's website or app and log into your account to verify anything.
Create burner accounts
A residual effect of the online shopping season is that your email address and phone number will be added to more marketing databases. That generally means more marketing messages.
Set up a Gmail account just for your shopping activities to keep all the extra junk from hitting your main account. If your "shopping account" becomes overrun with junk, stop using it.
You can do the same thing to protect your cell phone number by signing up for a free Google Voice number, which works via an app on your smartphone. All the text messages and calls that go to your "burner" number will appear on your smartphone via the app without exposing your actual number to the marketing world.
Never use a debit card
When you use your debit card to make a purchase, the money comes directly out of your checking account right away. If you fall for a scam, that money is usually gone by the time you figure it out.
While debit card fraud protection generally works the same as with credit cards, you're out the cash while you're trying to straighten out the situation. Not having that money could keep you from making mortgage, rent, or car payments.