Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping If you are a traditionalist when it comes to holiday shopping, you probably prefer heading to your local mall to mingle and compete with others with the goal of snagging good deals. While it’s hard to beat the rush and feel of traditional holiday shopping, there’s no doubt that it can be frustrating, especially with all of the crowds. The advancement of the internet has brought online shopping to the forefront, and it appears to be gaining in popularity. After all, you can usually get the same or better deals than are offered in person, it’s easy to compare prices, shipping is usually inexpensive or free, and you can execute all of your purchases from the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately, many hackers are well aware of online shopping’s rising popularity and are coming up with new ways to capitalize off their victims. This does not mean you should avoid online shopping altogether, but it does mean that you should take some necessary steps to protect your privacy and identity while doing so. Here are some tips for safe online shopping that you should practice this holiday season. Use Antivirus Software Whether you participate in online shopping or not, having solid, updated antivirus software running on your computer is a must. There are plenty of free programs on the market if you are worried about cost, so there is really no excuse to not protect yourself. Having a good antivirus program installed will help you stay notified if your computer is infected with any malware that could compromise your personal information. Shop at Home Nothing beats the comfort of your own home, and that thought rings true with online shopping. Beyond comfort, shopping at home is also more secure. Your Wi-Fi network should be secured with a password to prevent outsiders from logging in. Resist the temptation to use public Wi-Fi hotspots to shop online or to access any personal accounts. You never know who is also using the network, and your privacy could be at risk. If you do have to shop online in public for some reason, remember to log out of any accounts when you are finished and cover your screen to keep lurkers from seeing what payment information you type in. Avoid Pure Reliance on Search Engines Search engines are great tools for finding reference material or other items on the web, but when it comes to shopping, they can be virtual minefields. Many search engine results can be compromised to look like legit sites, but are in actuality fronts for malware. This is especially true for results that do not fall within the first page of Google or other search engines. You are much better off going directly to a site of a trusted retailer than one that simply looks good via a search engine. Hackers know that shoppers are looking for good deals and may post sales that are too good to be true with the hopes of luring in unsuspecting victims. You may end up paying a little more by shopping from a retailer like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, or Amazon, but you will at least know that you are getting your product from a legitimate website that is not filled with malware that could invade your privacy. Passwords: The Stronger, the Better If you are like most people, you have tons of online accounts. Email, memberships, financial accounts, and the list goes on. Name the site, and you probably have a password for it. With such a variety of information, it’s easy to lose track of your passwords. That does not mean you should use the same password for every site, however. What if someone gets a hold of one password and gets access to the rest of your accounts? That would be a disaster. Instead, make strong, unique passwords for each site that mix numbers, letters, capital and lower-case, etc. There are plenty of password manager programs that will help you remember them, or you can keep them written down in a private place. HTTPS is a Must So, you finally have your online shopping cart filled with some great deals and are ready to check out. It’s time to keep your eyes opened to ensure that your online checkout process is secure. How can you tell? Look in the address bar of your browser and make sure that the URL begins with HTTPS://. The extra S after HTTP lets you know that secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption is installed on the site. This gives you extra peace of mind that your credit card information is being shielded from potential hackers. Also, depending on your browser, you should see a little icon that resembles a padlock. It will either be to the side of the URL or at the bottom of your browser. The padlock icon should be locked. This symbolizes a secure connection. Any site that is reputable should have these measurements in place to protect customers. If not, go to another site to complete your shopping. Beware of the Information You Disclose When making an online purchase, only basic information should be asked of you. That includes your name, address, phone number, and credit card information. If a site starts asking for your social security number, do not go any further. There is no reason why an online retailer should need your social security number. If you do disclose it with your credit card information and it falls into the wrong hands, you could get involved in a real mess. Stay On Top of Your Accounts It’s easy to forget about certain charges if you are in an online shopping frenzy. You should make a habit out of frequently checking your accounts online to see that no fraudulent or unauthorized charges pop up. It will be much easier to fix any errors if you catch them early on, as your mind will be fresh. Use Common Sense If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nobody is going to give you a free iPad or iPhone for filling in your personal information or completing a survey, so don’t waste your time. Do not, under any circumstances, give out personal information or credit card data via email. Follow the aforementioned steps, and you should be good to go.