After more than 500 California customers of Lucky Supermarkets called last week to complain they'd been victims of fraud, parent company Save Mart issued a warning. High-tech thieves had altered self-checkout machines at nearly two dozen San Francisco Bay Area stores with data-skimming devices that wirelessly captured customers' credit and debit card statistics.
ABC News aired a report Friday with advice on avoiding such in-store thefts, but consumers also need to consider security when shopping online. As Christmas shipping deadlines approach, more of us will cruise the Internet to find last-minute deals. Here are five tips to avoid falling prey to online thieves.
1. Use One-time Use Credit Cards
Companies like Citibank, Discover and Bank of America can issue card numbers for one-time use so thieves can't piggy back on your purchase. According to an article in TIME Techland, these cards typically have a 12-month lifespan and are not available from all banks and card companies, but still represent one of the best methods to avoid online fraud.
2. Only Use Credit Cards
Debit card holders often have a very small window during which they can contest charges, whereas credit card carriers have between 30 and 90 days. Federal law dictates that cardholders are responsible for $50 of fraudulent charges to their credit cards before reporting the theft, whereas debit cardholders are liable for up to $500 if they fail to report the theft within two days. Bottom line: save debit cards for in-store purchases.
3. Shop With Gift Cards
Discount gift cards from websites like GiftCardGranny.com both save you money off a card's face value while ensuring online thieves can't dig deeper into your pocket. You don't have to wait around until you receive one as a gift, either - there's no law against purchasing gift cards for your own use, especially when you can take advantage of instant savings.
4. Review Statements Regularly
Check your credit card and bank statements regularly while charges are fresh in your mind. Paper statements are almost passé these days, so bring a printout of any suspicious activity to show your bank. You'll likely need to include it within the paperwork required to contest the charges, anyway.
5. Secure Your Network
Turn off "Share Files," printer access, and "Allow Remote Log-in" on your computer. Use a firewall and make sure it's updated. And make sure a url's "http" address changes to "https" when you start the checkout process. Read this Lifehacker.com blogpost for how-to details.
Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert who has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.