Q. While shopping during the holidays, I was offered the option of an e-receipt. Please explain this concept, and is it safe for electronic data storage?
A. Have you ever opted for a paperless, e-receipt? Some retailers and banks have started offering customers the option of receiving receipts from purchases and ATM transactions via email.
While this is a convenient alternative to paper clutter, Better Business Bureau is reminding shoppers to protect their identity in the process.
Many retailers offer e-receipts for both our convenience and theirs. E-receipts save retailers money, and they make it easier for you to electronically file them away until they are needed for returns, warranties or taxes.
E-receipts often can be tied to your store affinity card, but you often can opt for paperless simply by providing your email address to the clerk at the time of purchase.
There are also online companies that offer to organize and store digital receipts. You must create an account and provide your credit or debit card information, which the company uses to track transactions. After purchases, the company retrieves receipt information directly from retailers and stores it online.
Be careful! Obviously this kind of service is ripe for scammers to mimic in order to steal your information.
While paperless receipts may offer savings for retailers and convenience to you, be sure you are aware of what else you could be receiving in your inbox.
Along with receipts, businesses may send "junk mail" filled with surveys, coupons and other promotional offers. They may also use your information to build profiles on demographics and buying habits.
For shoppers who are interested in opting for the paperless, e-receipt, BBB offers the following tips:
• Find out how the business plans to keep your information secure. You will want to check to see if the business plans on selling your information to third parties.
If they do, be on the lookout for unsolicited emails requesting your personal information; they could be scams that download malware on your computer.
• Ask if you can opt out of receiving promotional emails. Now that the business has your email address, it is possible you will start to receive coupons, newsletters and other promotional emails from them ... and even from others if they have sold or shared your data.
You may want to set up a separate email address to use for paperless receipts so you can easily monitor it for spam.
• Beware of scams. Having receipts emailed can also make you susceptible to phishing and other identity theft scams.
Scammers pose as retailers or banks with realistic-looking emails that may claim there are problems with your purchase and request that you click a link to fix it.
The link may take you to a fraudulent site that asks for your personal information, or it might download malware on your computer that will search your hard drive for account numbers and passwords.
• Make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date. Whether you plan to increase your Internet and email use, it is always a good idea to make sure your system's security plan is updated regularly.
Spammers feed off of online shoppers who fail to update their security patches.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at email@example.com.