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Tips for Secure Shopping Online During the Holiday Season

The Internet has become the retailer of choice for more and more holiday shoppers in recent years, and the trend is expected to continue this season. According to Nielsenís recent Holiday Spending Forecast study, nearly half of consumers Ė 46 percent Ė plan to shop online this Cyber Monday, compared with 30 percent in 2012. The increase in online shopping coincides with an increase in mobile device use, and more shoppers will be using their tablets and smartphones to sniff out the best deals.  

Before you click or tap to buy that "must have" item on your holiday list, check out these tips below to make sure you're doing everything you can to avoid becoming a victim of cyber crime:

  • Secure your mobile device and computer. Be sure to keep the operating system and application software updated/patched on all of your computers and mobile devices. Be sure to check that any anti-virus/anti-spyware software installed is running and receiving automatic updates. Confirm that your firewall is enabled.
  • Know and trust your online shopping merchants. Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. If you have questions about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.  Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. If you notice any suspicious signs on a website, such as poor design, a strange or nonsensical Web address, and/or multiple pop-up windows that you canít close, stop shopping and close your browser windows. 
  • Look for "https" when making an online purchase. The "s" in "https" stands for "secure" and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted. If you submit your credit card information through an organization's website, be sure to look for indicators that the site is secure. Look for a padlock or key icon in the browser's status bar and be sure "https" appears in the websiteís address bar before making an online purchase.  You should also make sure that your browser software is current and up-to-date.
  • Password protect your mobile device and computer.  Itís the simplest and one of the most important steps to take to secure your mobile device and computer. If you need to create an account with the merchant, be sure to use a strong password. Use at least eight characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters.  Adhere to the tenant "a unique password for every unique site." 
  • Do not respond to pop-ups. When a window pops up promising you cash or gift cards for answering a question or taking a survey, close it by pressing Control + F4 for Windows and Command + W for Macs.
  • Avoid clicking on hyperlinks embedded in emails. The Better Business Bureau warns that legitimate businesses donít send emails asking for follow-up financial information. If an email, even one that claims to be from a familiar retailer, asks you to visit an outside site, donít do itĖit could be redirecting you to a scam site. Instead of clicking on a hyperlink, type in the Web address that you want to visit into your browser manually.
  • Avoid strangers on social media. While this rule applies the rest of the year, too, itís especially important around the holidays, when many retailers use social media to drum up business. Fraudsters also send malicious messages through social networks. BitDefender recommends treating messages from strangers as spamĖjust ignore them.
  • Donít click on fake holiday eCards. Festive e-greetings are ubiquitous this time of year, but the security firm AppRiver says fake cards can spread viruses. At the risk of being Scrooge, the firm recommends that consumers just delete cards that come from unknown addresses.
  • Avoid scams and fraud. Donít ever give your financial information or personal information over e-mail or text.  Be aware of unsolicited communications purporting to represent stores or charities. Always think before you click on e-mails you receive asking for donations and contact the organization directly to verify the request.  Information on many current scams can be found on the website of the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center: http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
  • Do not use public computers or public wireless for your online shopping.  Public computers may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order. Additionally, criminals may be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information, so avoid entering passwords and credit card numbers while in public hotspots.
  • Pay by credit card.  The safest way to shop on the Internet is to pay with a credit card rather than debit card, as credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may reduce your liability if your information was used improperly. Take advantage of the automatic identity-theft protection that comes with many credit cards.
  • Print your online transactions and review credit card statements often.  Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the e-mails you send and receive from the seller. Check your credit card statements frequently (donít just wait until you get your monthly bill) because many card companies have time limits on when customers can dispute charges. Contact your credit card company immediately if you have unauthorized charges on your account.
  • Review privacy policies. Review the privacy policy for the website/merchant you are visiting. Know what information the merchant is collecting about you, how it will be stored, how it will be used, and if it will be shared with others. 

What do you do if you encounter problems with an online shopping site? Contact the seller or the site operator directly to resolve any issues. You may also contact the following:

For additional information about safe online shopping, please visit the following sites: