Visa: Practice Good Bargain Hunting Safety

Crowd of shoppers wait outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn., before the store opens for Black Friday shopping at midnight on Black Friday. (AP Photo)

Several large U.S. merchants have announced plans to start the holiday bargain-hunting a little early this year, shifting from the traditional Black Friday to Thursday evening, even while our Thanksgiving turkey is still settling. Regardless of when you decide to shop, make sure you’re prepared.

Payment cards have made our holiday shopping experience vastly more convenient. They’re also safer than cash. But fraudsters are also very busy during the shopping season. In addition to studying door-buster prices, remembering your coupons and arriving early, make sure you prepare by familiarizing yourself with a few tips to protect your payment account information

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Before shopping or using an ATM, make sure the area is well lit and that it’s not in a remote or hidden area. Cover your hand while entering in a PIN.
  • Review carefully before signing and keep your receipts. Always check sales slips to ensure that the purchase amount is correct before you sign them and retain your receipt to compare against your statements or to return a purchase.
  • Get it back. After every purchase, take care to ensure that your card is returned to you. Taking this extra step can help ensure that your card does not go missing and save you from the hassle of retracing your steps.
  • Keep it to yourself. Don’t lend your card to anyone. You are responsible for its use. Some payment card misuse can be traced directly to family and friends. Similarly, never disclose your PIN to anyone. No one from a financial institution, the police, or a merchant should ask for your PIN.
  • Put alerts to work. Some financial institutions offer you the option to have “account alerts” delivered to your cell phone or email. This keeps you up-to-date and on top of any suspicious activity. Contact your financial institution or sign up directly for the V.me by Visa digital wallet service which allows you to set up near real-time transaction alerts for your Visa accounts.
Black Friday shoppers' cell phones being tracked.

Black Friday 2011 Shoppers (Photo: AP)

Tips for a secure Cyber Monday

Many consumers will do their gift-buying during Cyber Monday, one of the busier days of the year for Internet purchases. Just as in the physical world, cardholders should exercise certain precautions.

Shop safe with these tips from Visa:

  • Make sure your inoculations are up to date. Before you start shopping online, make sure your computer’s anti-virus software is updated. Take the extra time to keep cybercriminals from invading your computer or stealing sensitive personal information.
  • Don’t forget to check your URL. Double-check the website’s URL before you enter any of your payment details. Be certain that the URL begins with “https://”. The “s” at the end of the “http” confirms that the site has a secure connection.
  • Know who you’re dealing with. Shop at online stores you know and trust. Be cautious when visiting unfamiliar sites offering deals that are too-good-to-be-true.
  • Look before you leap. Beware of phishing scams in all forms including email and unsolicited phone calls. You can learn some of the warning signs of a phishing scam. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also cautions consumers to be wary of “one day only” email promotions from recognized brands; such emails may be another tool fraudsters use to obtain payment information from unsuspecting shoppers.
  • Consider a digital wallet. Digital wallet services such as Visa’s recently launched V.me by Visa helps provide an additional layer of protection around online purchases. Among its advantages is that it does not share your full account information with online merchants.

For added peace of mind

  • Remember zero liability.  In the unlikely case that fraud does occur, most card-issuing financial institutions provide their cardholders with a zero liability policy, ensuring they won’t be held responsible for fraudulent purchases. Report a missing card or any suspicious activity to the card issuer immediately.
  • Do a regular review.  You can catch unauthorized transactions early by checking your account details regularly — at least once a week. Or even better, sign up for transaction alerts from your issuer or directly from Visa through V.me.

Making yourself aware of these simple tips can give you added peace of mind this holiday season. Happy bargain hunting!