Cyber-Shopping: 10 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

The 2011 holiday season is in full swing and shoppers across the nation are making online purchases in record numbers. In fact, according to Internet Retailer’s holiday shopping survey, 72 percent of U.S. online consumers say they will shop online for holiday gifts this year, and USA Today reports Cyber Monday online traffic was up 43 percent from last year. With credit card numbers flying through cyberspace, make sure you take steps to protect your security if you plan to shop online this year, say personal financial planning experts at the Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA). The following tips can keep an online Grinch from ruining your holiday cheer (and the rest of the year, too).
 
Verify the company and Web site. One of the most important first steps you can take is to make sure you’re actually making a purchase from a legitimate business. Independent Web sites like Epinions.com and Biz Rate will let you read what other consumers have to say about a business. The Better Business Bureau Online offers consumers a list of safe shopping sites. When in doubt, go with a reputable company name.
 
Look for signs of security. When it’s time to input your payment information, look for an “s” after “http” in the Web site address, ensuring your data is encrypted as it is transmitted. Also look for a tiny closed padlock in the address bar or on the lower right corner of the window. As an added security measure, update your Web site browser. The most recent versions of Web site browsers are typically the most secure.
 
Be skeptical. We’re all looking for a bargain, but approach a deal that seems too good to be true with caution. Submitting your information to an unknown company to purchase a new computer for $25 could be risky. Paying the higher price through a trusted vendor may be the difference between a secure purchase and a compromised credit card number.
 
Keep it private. Avoid inputting your credit card number and personal information on public computers. Hackers prey on shared computers.
 
Pay with plastic. Yes, financial planners often tell you not to run up your credit card bill, and that still holds, but using your credit card for online purchases offers you some protection. If there are any problems, you can work with your credit card company to file and resolve a dispute. Incidentally, many credit cards offer protection or insurance on purchases. In lieu of using plastic, many retailers will allow you to use a third-party payment service as PayPal, which guarantees your purchase. And ultimately, credit cards offer more security than debit cards.
 
Print, save, and stash. Don’t forget to keep records of your purchases. Print and save your receipts and e-mail confirmations. You’ll need these if you encounter any problems.
 
Safeguard your Password. It’s time to get a little more sophisticated with your choice of passwords; abcd123 isn’t going to cut it. Today’s hackers are smart and determined. Get creative and use a combination of letters and numbers. Some sites will even allow you to use special symbols, like dollar signs or ampersands.
 
Verify the privacy policy. In short, make sure the vendor has one and that they outline how they’ll be protecting your information.
 
Be careful where you click. Go directly to a seller’s Web site versus clicking on a link you receive in an e-mail or stumble across on another site. Clicking on unknown links can take you places you’d rather not go.
 
Check it out. When your credit card statement arrives, go over it with a fine-tooth comb, making certain all of the purchases are yours. If you question a line item, call the credit card company immediately. Don’t forget to check a store’s online purchase policy as well, should you need to exchange or return an item.
 
"There are a lot of great online deals this holiday season," said OSCPA Executive Director Daryl Hill. "By taking a few simple precautions, you can shop wisely without jeopardizing your online security."
 
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