Three Things You Need to Know Before Shopping Online

Think twice before you hit that "buy now" button...

Last month, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center released a report showing that online scams have increased dramatically this year. That's because we've spent much more time on the Internet due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

It's not surprising. You can get nearly anything online these days, from groceries to clothing to car batteries (for some models, at least). You can stream TV shows, movies, video games, virtual workouts, and more. Heck, you can even order some Halloween skeletons or a seven-foot-tall werewolf from Home Depot and get free shipping.

In fact, you could argue that spending time online is our new favorite pastime this year. During the nationwide shutdowns, data usage increased by 47%. Netflix, Facebook, and WhatsApp have all seen major increases in subscribers and usage. And according to Adobe Analytics, we've spent an extra $107 billion online this year as a result of the pandemic.

With our increased time online, we wanted to remind you of our top three tips to stay safe.

1. Research that company advertising on social media.

If you've seen an ad on social media lately and it's your first interaction with that seller, be careful. Remember, anyone can set up a professional-looking social media page... even scammers.

This happened to my researcher's husband recently. After he tried to order a shirt from a Facebook ad, his bank froze his card. The bank knew the seller was a fraud even though he didn't.

Although stores have begun to reopen after the pandemic shutdowns, most Americans still shop online. Adobe Analytics saw that in July 2020, at $66.3 billion, online sales were up 55% year over year. And many of these sales now happen through social media advertisements. It's opening more of us up to scammers.

So always check the seller's reputation. Checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good start. But another great resource is Scamadviser. This service looks at a website's certificates and other registration info to see if it's legitimate. My researcher now uses it to screen sites after the Facebook ad scam. You can access Scamadviser here.

2. Before you donate to that online charity, make sure they're legitimate.

One silver lining to the pandemic: Americans are helping each other more. Recent findings from DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund to support charitable giving, found that from January to April, Americans pledged $2.4 billion to charity... up 16% from the same time in 2019.

If you're looking to support local charities, do some research first. You want to make sure your money goes to a reputable charity, not a scam. Do what we do and look up the organization before you give. Use a watchdog group like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. These services rank charities based on things like how much money goes directly to the stated cause and accountability (audits and transparency). These ratings help ensure your contributions actually go to those in need.

3. Change your passwords.

If you're like most Americans, you likely use the same password for multiple sites. Maybe you use your kid's name or your anniversary date – something you know you can remember.

But that exposes you to all kinds of attacks.

You should follow certain rules when you choose a password. First, make them "strong and long." A strong password has a nearly random combination of numbers, letters, and symbols (the characters above the numbers on your keyboard).

Second, don't use the same password for more than one website. If one website falls victim to hackers, and you've used that same password on other sites, it's easier for thieves to steal bits of information from multiple places and put together your complete history and identity.

Finally, change your passwords often. Every few months is a good routine. But if that's hard to do, here's a great trick: When you set your clocks forward and back for daylight saving time, change your passwords.

These three tips will help keep you safe online... but they're just the beginning. That's why I compiled all my best advice into my special report, "Safeguard Your Privacy: Four Areas of Your Life You Need to Protect." In it, I show you how to stay safe online and in real life. Click here if you're already a Retirement Millionaire subscriber. And if you aren't, you can sign up today and get immediate access. Click here now.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 22, 2020