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On-line Holiday Shopping: 10 Tips to Stay Safe

Don’t let fake companies and identity thieves dampen your holiday spirit. Before you click the ‘Buy’ button this holiday season, check out these helpful tips to enjoy safer online shopping.

1. Shop at websites you trust

On the web, some businesses are fabricated by people who just want your credit card information and other personal details. To play it safe, consider doing online business only with retailers you trust and have shopped with before.

2. Check out the business

Did you find the perfect gift on an unfamiliar website? Break out your detective skills whenever you want to buy something from a new merchant. Does it have a history of scam reports or complaints at the Better Business Bureau? Take it one step further by contacting the business. If there’s no email address, phone number or address for a brick-and-mortar location, that could be a signal that it’s a fake company.

3. Beware rock-bottom prices

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other big sales along the way have become a tradition of holiday shopping. But if a website offers something that looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Compare prices and pictures of the merchandise at similar websites. Rock-bottom prices could be a red flag that the business doesn’t have those items in stock. The website may exist only to get your personal information. Bah humbug!

4. Use your home internet connection and avoid public Wi-Fi

You might be tempted to take your shopping spree to a coffee shop for a cup of joe. Keep in mind, Wi-Fi networks use public airwaves. With a little tech know-how and the freely available Wi-Fi password at your favorite cafe, someone can intercept what you’re looking at on the web. Shopping online usually means giving out information that an identity thief would love to grab, including your name and credit card information. Bottom line: It’s never a good idea to shop online or log in to any website while you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.

5. Use a VPN

Still can’t resist the lure of shopping online while sipping that peppermint latte? If you must shop online on public Wi-Fi, consider installing and using a VPN—short for “virtual private network”—on all mobile devices and computers before connecting to any Wi-Fi network. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your smartphones and computers and the VPN server. Think of it as a secure tunnel your Internet traffic travels through while you browse the web, making your data safer from interception by nearby hackers.

6. Create strong passwords

If someone has the password to your account, they can log in, change the shipping address, and order things while you get stuck with the bill. Help keep your account safe by locking it with a strong password—“Santa123” won’t do. Here are some tips on how:

  • Use a complex set of lowercase and uppercase numbers, letters, and symbols.

  • Don’t use personal information that others can find or guess, such as birthdates, your kids’ names, or your favorite color.

  • Don’t use the same password—however strong—on multiple accounts. A data breach at one company could give criminals access to your other, shared-password accounts.

7. Check out website security

That small lock icon in the corner of your URL field tells you that the web page you’re on has privacy protection installed. The URL will start with “https.” These websites mask and transfer data you share, typically on pages that ask for passwords or financial information. If you don’t see that lock or the “s” after “http,” then the webpage isn’t secure. There is no privacy protection attached to these pages, so we suggest you exercise caution before providing your credit card information over these sites.

8. Watch out for email scams

Sometimes something in your email in-box can stir your holiday consumer cravings. For instance, it might be tempting to open an email that promises a “special offer.” But that offer could be special in a bad way. Clicking on emails from unknown senders and unrecognizable sellers could infect your computer with viruses and malware. It’s better to play it safe. Delete them, don’t click on any links, and don’t open any attachments from individuals or businesses you are unfamiliar with.

9. Don’t give out too much information

No shopping website will ever need your Social Security number. If you’re asked for very personal details, call the customer service line and ask whether you can supply some other identifying information. Or just walk away and find a better-known, accommodating website for your holiday buys.

10. Make a resolution

It’s smart to practice safe online shopping during the holidays. But the holiday season doesn’t last forever. Make a New Year’s resolution to shop safely online year-round.

Excerpts obtained from the article: "15 Tips for Safe Holiday Online Shopping" written by Kim Porter for Symantec

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