7 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

The holidays are coming up, and you might already be thinking about purchasing holiday gifts. And if you're like many shoppers, you might consider bypassing the long lines and crowded stores by doing you shopping online instead. Online shopping presents an easy, convenient way to research and purchase items without leaving your home. However, as more and more people take advantage of the Internet for their gift-giving, identity theft and fraud becomes more prevalent. Every year, consumers find that their personal information, including credit/debit card details, user names and passwords, has been compromised. To avoid being a victim of identity theft, please be sure to follow these tips for any online purchases:

Look for third-party seals of approval.

When deciding if a site is secure, look for seals of approval from such trusted third parties as VeriSign, GeoTrust, TRUSTe and BBB. These logos indicate that this site properly safeguards customer information. For further verification, click on those logos and make sure they include relevant information to the site you're considering for your holiday purchases. If the name or URL is different, move on to another site for your holiday shopping. The following logos are common trusted third-party seals of approval:

Read privacy policies before making purchases.

Any ecommerce website that is PCI-compliant, meaning it upholds the highest in data security standards, should have a privacy policy that clearly addresses information security. Read privacy policies first to make sure that your information won't be used by any other companies without your authorization.

Enter information only into secure sites.

Before you enter as much as your middle initial into an online form, make sure the site is completely secure. In the web address, there should be an “s” after the “http.” This extra s tells you that your data has been encrypted, meaning your information is scrambled as it's transmitted through the Internet. Also, look for a closed padlock emblem in the web address bar and/or in the bottom right-hand corner of the browser. An open padlock means this isn't a secure site. If neither of these are present, your information is vulnerable to theft. This is what the web address of a secure online store should look like:

secure website image

Protect passwords.

Like you would with your ATM PIN, make sure to safeguard any passwords you use to log into websites. Don't share your password with anyone. Also, make sure to choose passwords wisely. Don't use easy-to-guess names and numbers such as your name, year of birth or address. For best results, include a mix of lower- and upper-case letters as well as numbers.

Beware of phishing.

Phishing occurs when customers are unknowingly redirected to a trustworthy-looking site in an attempt to acquire sensitive customer information. In many cases, the phishing websites are designed to be identical to the authentic sites customers think they are using, except the URL will be different. Many phishing attacks also take place through e-mail when customers click on links. Avoid phishing attacks by not clicking on suspicious links and consistently checking the URL to make sure you're still on the same website.

Always log out.

If the online store you're shopping at requires you to log in, be sure to log out after your transaction is completed; don't simply close your browser. Ecommerce websites often use session cookies that remember your information from page to page through the checkout process. If you don't log out, these session cookies will be accessible by hackers for up to 15 minutes, plenty of time to get your information.

Use common sense.

Bottom line: if you simply don't trust a website, for whatever reason, just don't use it. Even if it means finding another gift elsewhere, you're better off shopping at a place where you can comfortably share your personal information.

If you suspect online identity theft or fraud, be sure to report all instances to The Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. A partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Internet Crime Complaint Center collects and refers instances of cyber crime to the appropriate local, state, federal or international agency to investigate.

For even more ways to shop safe during the holidays or any other time of year, check out these resources:

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse – Online Shopping Tips: Ecommerce and You

Microsoft Safety – Online Shopping Safety Tips

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