Is Online Shopping Safe? 10 Tips to Help You Stay Protected

During the holiday season, some folks simply don't like going into stores, bargain hunting, or standing in long lines—but many of these same people enjoy buying gifts for others. Those of us who prefer to stay away from packed malls and shopping centers can shop online from the comfort of our home—or, in some cases, our desk at work.

This year, holiday shoppers drove Cyber Monday sales up 30% over the same day last year, according to USA Today, despite the growing number of stories about online scams. So we armed our Digital Joneses bloggers with gift cards and asked them to go online and shop at "questionable" sites to see just how safe online shopping is.

The first thing High Tech Dad Michael Sheehan noticed was that it's not always easy to tell the difference between a legitimate site and a scam site. Today's cyber thieves are very good at tricking people, so before you enter your credit card info make sure the site has encryption—look for HTTPS and a padlock symbol in the tool bar, you can click on the padlock symbol to get more details.

After searching for terms like 'super xbox deals' and 'cheap rolex watches' one blogger was surprised to find that all the sites he came across were legitimate. One site even offered a caution about purchasing counterfeit merchandise.

Although the vast majority of online shopping sites are safe, there are still many dangers lurking online.
Here are 10 basic tips to help keep your online shopping experience safe:

1. Use an updated browser—they frequently have safe-guards built in.
2. Check for HTTPS and valid certificates.
3. Watch out for deals that are simply too good to be true—the merchandise may be stolen or counterfeit.
4. Be careful when shopping on eBay, Craigslist or equivalent sites. They can be packed with scammers.
5. Get security software. The more protection you have, the harder it is to become a victim.
6. Use a normal payment method—don't do wire transfers or money orders.
7. Use a credit card—you get better protection against fraud and have limited liability.
8. Use temporary email—sign up for a temporary email and then forward those emails to your own account.
9. Don't use debit cards. While they are somewhat protected, it's better not to use them.
10. Review the privacy policy to see what information is used and how it is used.

Finally, it always helps to stay abreast of the latest threats and make sure you have the most recent security updates. With these tips and some common sense, your online shopping experience should be safe during the holidays and beyond.

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