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How to shop safely online

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, retailers are bracing themselves for the usual post-Thanksgiving Day onslaught.

Much of our holiday shopping is now done online. Security company Webroot recently published data indicating that 55 percent of consumers planned to buy at least half their holiday gifts through the Web, up from 38 percent a year ago.

Unfortunately, the switch to online shopping has been accompanied by an equivalent increase in Internet security threats. Credit, debit and PayPal fraud is at an all-time high, and phishing attacks – bogus e-mails from sources claiming to be legitimate companies – are set to peak around the holiday buying season. It’s relatively easy for unsuspecting shoppers to fall victim to the numerous web-based scams.

However, there are some simple steps we can all take to protect ourselves. A little vigilance can go a long way to making our online shopping experience more enjoyable and worry-free.

1. Only do business with reputable vendors. Make sure you are dealing with a reputable, established online vendor. Locate and note contact information and how customer issues are dealt with. Avoid clicking through to unknown links directly off search engine pages.

2. Make sure sensitive information is encrypted. Before you supply any sensitive information, look for a URL that begins with “https” instead of “http”. This indicates a layer of security. Also look for a padlock or shield icon, which indicates recognized encryption software.

3. Use a credit card. Always use a credit card to pay for transactions, rather than a debit card, money order or other forms of “cash”. Credit card companies will provide a certain amount of protection against fraud, eliminating or at least limiting personal liability.

4. Use different passwords for different vendors. Don’t use the same password for all your online shopping accounts. If a password is intercepted or stolen from one account, it makes all your other online transactions vulnerable as well.

5. Watch out for seasonal scams. Be cautious with e-mails claiming to be shipping confirmations or package alerts, particularly if they contain a file attachment. Delete any message from a source that you don’t recognize. Always track transactions and shipments through the retailer's or shipper's web site.

6. Avoid using open networks. Only shop on secure networks and avoid free “open” Wi-Fi networks, where data or shopping habits may be visible to third parties.

7. Keep software up-to-date. Make sure your browser and operating software is up-to-date. Attackers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in operating systems and manufacturers regularly offer updates to eliminate potential weaknesses.

Comment by Natalie , posted 11/20/2010, 5:05 PM:

If you're doing any mobile shopping, the iPhone offers a number of apps that assist in secure shopping and "personal concierge" service. For information on just a few of these apps, check out:
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