With the holidays right around the corner, many will begin shopping for gifts online to avoid the crowds in stores. Last year, over $2 billion in sales occurred online on Cyber Monday (the online equivalent of Black Friday), with total orders up 15% from 2013. However, an increase in online shopping also means an increase in individuals attempting to steal personal information. Read on for information about how to shop safely online during the holiday season.

Think safe, be safe

One of the best ways to stay safe when shopping online is to use common sense. Clicking on websites you’ve never heard of before, simply because they offer a good deal, is not a wise decision. If you’re shopping online, you should use reputable sites from well-known retailers. If you’re Googling a site, beware of common misspellings when clicking on links (e.g., Amazon.com versus Amazon.net). It’s always a bad idea to click on a link in an email from someone you don’t know, but it’s particularly dangerous if you click on a deal from an email advertisement that turns out to be fake. If you receive an email announcing a deal, avoid clicking the link and visit the site directly to view the deal. If you can’t find it on the company’s website, it is likely a spam email.

When completing your order, don’t give the website all your personally identifying information. No online shopping store needs your social security number or your birthday to do business. But if someone gets that information, combined with your credit card number for purchases, they can do a lot of damage. Remember: the more someone knows about you, the easier it is to steal your identity.

Keep it private

Don’t ever make purchases online from a device that’s not your own. You should avoid using public computers for online purchases, as your information may be cached and accessible to the next person who comes along. It’s also important to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks when making online purchases because these networks are not as secure as private networks. Malicious individuals can use technology to intercept your data in a man-in-the-middle attack.

Monitor your purchases

Since it’s so easy to make purchases online, you can easily rack up a laundry list of purchases for the holiday season. Instead of waiting until the end of the month to receive your account statement, go online regularly to make sure no unauthorized purchases are being applied to your account. The quicker you can identify rogue purchases; the quicker your bank can address the situation. In most cases, you have 30 days to notify your bank or card issuer of any problems with your account.

It’s also recommended that you shop online with a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have spending limits and require payment at a later date. Unless you have specifically placed a cap on your account, debit cards do not have a spending limit and are directly linked to your bank account, removing funds at the time of purchase.

Following these steps will increase the security of your online shopping this holiday season, and limit the chances that your data might be compromised.

Image by Flickr user Glory Cycles | CC BY

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Ryan Gay

Ryan Gay

Ryan is a Technical Writer and Help Desk Associate for Campus Technology Support. He has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in English from UNC-Greensboro.

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