These days we are being forced, and choosing, to make many of our purchases online.
From paying bills to buying trinkets on eBay, more and more people are spending more and more money online.
Spending money online is very convenient, kind-of good for the environment and usually easy.
But it is not without risks.
I am not going to bang on about those. I have done that a lot already and I am sure many of you know at least some of the risks. I also suspect most of you/us have fallen victim to at least some level of "bad online purchase".
The biggest part of the problem is knowing who you can trust online.
The scammers and fake sellers go to great efforts to look legitimate. They'll even give you better customer service than most real organisations...right up to the point where they get your money that is.
So it is always getting harder to spot them from the real, safe and honest vendors.
And, even when the vendors are legitimate, their practices can be less than honorable. I am talking about products that people subscribe to online and then can't cancel easily (or at all). I am talking about credit card authorised debits that just refuse to be cancelled or stopped even when the card itself has been cancelled.
But, sometimes we just have to buy online.
The trick is to minimise that risk and there are ways to do that.
Here are some of the tips and tricks you should consider:
1. Don't use any sources of funds that are automatically connected to bank accounts e.g. Paypal can automatically draw on your bank account IF you have connected it.
While Paypal purports to protect us better than banks, and it usually does, they are really mostly interested in protecting themselves.
I have had Paypal take money back from me, and fine me, for a customer who had legitimately paid me for work then cancelled their connected credit card because their daughter had stolen it. I never got that money back from Paypal.
2. Don't use credit cards from the same bank as your savings accounts or mortgage etc.
This is similar to point 1 above for obvious reasons.
But an additional point to consider is that it is easy for anyone to make a false credit card debit against a card.
Remote scammers use this loophole and will often empty a credit card (max it out) and then call the "customer" to transfer more money to it. These scammers will happily help you do that.
3. Cancel any Automatic renewals as soon as they are set up.
Many subscription services, such as antivirus products, will sign you up for automatic annual debits without really giving you much of an option at the time of purchase.
In this case I recommend a few things:
a) While the information about your account and where you bought it is still fresh in your mind, go in and cancel automatic renewals immediately.
I can't tell you how many times I have had to chase down this for customers but I can tell you I am not always successful.
Do it now, do it while your email address and other details are current.
b) Use Paypal for subscriptions.
While I slagged off Paypal above, it is actually as good way to subscribe to things because Paypal WILL let you delete a pre-authorised transaction easily.
c) Don't sign up to anything that does this to you if you don't think you can't do point a) or point b) or you don't like the idea. Simple.
4. Use a prepaid/preloaded debit only card to buy things online.
There are plenty of places you can get "anonymous" prepaid credit cards, like the one pictured at the top of this article.
While the providers will know your details for their security, the details on the card itself do not identify you and the whole idea of the cards is to NOT spend more money than you have.
So rather than honour transactions when the card is empty of funds, they will simply reject the sale.
I use these on anything that is even slightly suspect.
My card only ever has $200 on it so that is the limit of my liability or risk if the card gets compromised.
Because it isn't connected to my bank accounts or Paypal or anything really it is no big deal to just cancel it and move on.
Having that card compromised doesn't mean that all my other bank accounts get closed down while I wait for an inept Australian bank to consider sending me a new card and refunding bad transactions.
5. Paypal isn't that bad, you should still use it for some things.
Paypal will protect you with a lot of online purchases. You just need to be careful with them as a seller. for the reason I mentioned in point 1. above.
I use Paypal on eBay and various other online markets BECAUSE they protect me from bad vendors through those markets.
If you can use Paypal without a link to your bank account that's better, but it is OK to use it linked if you aren't a spend-a-holic and if you have multi-factor-authentication turned on.
6. Use MFA - Multi-Factor Authentication on everything financial or private you do online.
What is MFA?
Read about it here:https://www.cyber.gov.au/mfa
It is worth noting that the MFA most banks use is a bit shit and ONLY protects you the first time you purchase with a new vendor.
So if you accidentally spend with someone shonky then the bank will assume you are always happy to spend with them...which obviously isn't the case.
The overarching theme here is to only spend online with protected and isolated sources of funds.
That way your risk is only as big as that one pool of money.
I hope that helps you.
There'll be more tips coming as and when I remember them :-)