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November 24, 2017

Some cyber shopping tips for a safe holiday season

By CAROL K. NELSON
Special to the Journal

These days I find I'm as apt to reach for my phone as I am for my credit card when I buy something, whether I'm using my “mobile wallet” or a person-to-person (P2P) payment.

And of course, you probably spend as much time shopping online as I do. That's why as we dive into the shopping season, it's a smart time to double-click on some ways to stay safe when we're making digital transactions.

Here are some best practices that will help keep your money safe and your holiday cheer intact.

Person-to-person

Person-to-person payments, or P2P, means never having to write a check — or an IOU — for that dinner check you're splitting or your share of the concert tickets your friend purchased.

P2P services enable you to send money directly from one of your designated online accounts, using your smartphone and a payment app. I find that that P2P wins points for convenience, but you'll want to put some safety precautions in place before signing up for P2P services, much less before hitting click and send:

• Some services assess fees on senders and recipients, so be sure you know the costs before committing.

• Understand the services' privacy practices. In some cases, a service might automatically share your transaction history with others. Make sure you are able to adjust privacy settings as you see fit. (Not everyone needs to know how much you paid your friend for the pizza you split!)

• For the sake of your checking, savings or credit card account, know when your P2P payment will be deducted and when the person receiving the money can access those funds.

• Find out how your server resolves errors and disputes in the event you make a fat-finger mistake and send money to the wrong email address.

Mobile wallets

Similar to P2P, this software turns your smartphone into a mobile wallet so you can pay merchants in person by scanning or tapping your phone on the payment pad.

And similar to P2P, there's the potential tradeoff of security for convenience. Here are some tips to help you keep your mobile wallet secure:

• Shop smart. Don't leave your smartphone anywhere you wouldn't leave your wallet — like sitting unattended in a public place, or on the dashboard of your unlocked or unattended vehicle. Be discreet about using your mobile wallet, and don't make transactions over an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

• Write down your smartphone's make, model number, serial number and its unique device identification number. That number is either the International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) or the Mobile Equipment Identifier number (MEID). Look for these numbers beneath the smartphone battery.

Don't recycle device passwords. Having a unique password on your smartphone protects against unauthorized transactions, and the theft and misuse of your personal information.

Shopping online

Are you one of the more than half of Americans planning to use your laptop or desktop to tackle your holiday shopping list? I know I am! Here are some suggestions for protecting your personal information and your purchases:

• Make sure your online shopping site isn't the digital version of a shady pop-up shop. Check online sellers' reviews and make sure contact information is listed so you have someone to call if there's a problem with your purchase.

• Comparison shop so you know whether an apparent bargain is a great deal — or a great deal less than advertised. Be sure to factor in shipping and handling and restocking costs in case you need to return your purchase.

• Always use your credit card for online shopping so you can dispute purchases. And if someone uses your card information to make unauthorized purchases, be sure to alert your bank right away!

With the new online and mobile tools available, shopping can be more convenient than ever. But it's not without its risks, so putting smart precautions in place (and making sure to adhere to a wise budget as well!) can ensure that you start the new year feeling fiscally fit.

Carol Nelson is KeyBank's Pacific Region executive and Seattle market president.


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