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Online Shopping: 10 Tips for Staying Safe on the Web

By Allie Seligman on January 23rd, 2014

With deals flooding inboxes and malls packed to capacity, holiday shoppers turned to the Internet more than ever this year to find the perfect gifts.

Cyber Monday, the online equivalent of Black Friday, was the biggest online shopping day in history with $2.29 Billion in total sales for 2013, according to figures released by Adobe Digital Index.

That trumps last year’s Cyber Monday sales by 16 percent, according to Adobe.

Shoppers are using smartphones and tablets to browse online shops more than ever, too. IBM reports indicated mobile shopping numbers were up 45 percent this year, accounting for 17 percent of total online purchases.

Now, with post-holiday sales in full swing, online retailers continue to rake in the cash. Though the last gifts of the season have been given, online shopping isn’t limited to December.

Here are some tips to keep you (and your personal information) out of harms way all year long.

Be a little wary

Does a deal sound too good to be true? It just might be. Online counterfeiters are hoping you’ll drop your guard. Even in the season of massive discounts and jaw-dropping savings, don’t ignore your gut feeling.

Choose a strong password

Lucky for you, many websites now require at least moderately complex passwords. The old standby, “password,” won’t cut it anymore. Add some numbers, a capital letter and a character (think !@#$) for good measure.

Stick to reputable sellers

Purchase from brands you know and trust. If you’ve never heard of a company and its website seems shady, it’s probably not worth the potential headache. With thousands of retailers out there, you’re bound to find what you want from a company you can trust. Sites like BizRate.com can make it easier to find trustworthy sources, no matter what you’re shopping for.

Do your homework

Before you enter your credit card information, check for security and privacy seals and other signs that the site you’re shopping is legitimate, including an https:// URL. Searching the company’s name is never a bad idea and can alert you to stories of purchases gone wrong, faulty or misrepresented merchandise or other eCommerce woes.

Give yourself a fallback

Arm your computer with security software that will keep you safe by keeping malware, spyware and viruses out. Check out some options for PCS and Macs.

http://www.pcmag.com/reviews/security-software (link for PCS)
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2406379,00.asp (link for Macs)

Check out as a guest

The more online accounts you’ve got floating around, the better the chance you’ll end up with an inbox full of spam — and something potentially dangerous. Many eCommerce websites offer a “check out as guest” option, meaning you don’t need to sign up for yet another mailing list.

Use trusted payment services

Does the site you’re shopping allow PayPal transactions? Signing up is easy and secure, and it’s a great way to know your information is protected. Other secure payment sites are popping up, so keep your eyes open for other safe checkout options. And remember: never email payment information.

Stick with what’s required

Only enter the required information in online payment and shipping forms. There’s no sense in offering up your birthday (or worse, Social Security number). The more information you can keep private, the better.

Stop clicking through

Visit websites directly, not through email links or social media postings that could be malicious. If there’s a sale to be had, chances are you’ll be able to access it regardless of how you enter a website. As always, your gut feeling is king.

Making the connection

Hit the purchase button from home or on another password-protected, trusted connection. There’s no telling what’s floating around (or who might be watching) on that free Wi-Fi network at your local café.