The holiday shopping rush is starting right now, and the best deals can be found at your fingertips, online. But this year it's more crucial than ever to be mindful of who might be watching, waiting for you to enter your card number and click "buy".
"The stakes are higher with a debit card," says John O'Hara, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi.
O'Hara says he often fields complaints from online shoppers who have had their account information stolen by criminals, and their bank accounts compromised, even drained. Sometimes those shoppers don't even realize it until it's much too late.
"If they take all the money out of your account, the next thing you know, there's people's rent checks bouncing," he says.
It's easier for someone to steal your money when you use a debit card rather than a credit card, because debit cards pull the money directly out of your bank account. But credit cards offer an extra layer of protection, because the money you charge isn't pulled out of your bank account right away.
Some people avoid credit cards because of the interest, but O'Hara says you can bypass the tacked-on interest when you pay off the full credit card balance every month.
"To people who say, 'I don't even have a credit card, I just use a debit card', we advise them to get a credit card just make these purchases," he tells us.
And after you shop online, check your statements. Do it every day, O'Hara says, to catch something that could be easily overlooked.
"What sometimes happens when people steal your identity or steal your credit card information, there's small charges that go out there," he says, referring to charges in amounts like $2.56 or $6.98. He says that's how crooks test your card to see if it's active.
"If you catch it when it's a small item and say, I don't know what this is, you can actually protect yourself from getting hit with larger items on your credit card," he adds.
And something else to keep your money safe: right now Mississippians have unlimited access to free credit reports over the next three years due to a settlement between Attorney General Jim Hood's office and the three major credit reporting agencies.
Hood says even he has been a victim of credit card fraud.
"People have gone and charged on my number. Somebody at a restaurant. They'll get that and try to charge things," Hood said.
You can register and start getting your free credit reports here.
"I really enjoy being able to stay ahead of the crooks. And they're moving to technology," Hood said.
The Attorney General's Office provides warning signs to avoid becoming a victim of fraud as you shop online:
Hood also urges you to get involved:
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