Black Friday, Cyber Monday. We all enjoy the thrill of finding the best deals. Plus, shopping online is a pleasure. No traffic, no crowds, and no searching for a parking spot. According to Forrester Research, U.S. online retail sales will grow to $480 billion by 2019. At the same time, scams are growing too. 

Before you click or tap to buy that "must have" item on your holiday list, make sure you're doing everything you can to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime. Here are some tips:

1.  Secure mobile devices and computers. Keep the operating system and application software updated/patched on all of your computers and mobile devices. Also be sure to check that any antivirus/antispyware software installed is running and receiving automatic updates. Confirm that your firewall is enabled.

2.  Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. If you have questions about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.  Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems.

3.  Look for "https" when making an online purchase. The "s" in "https" stands for "secure" and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted. If you submit your credit card information through an organization's website, be sure to look for indicators that the site is secure. Find the padlock or key icon in the browser's status bar and be sure "https" appears in the website's address bar before making an online purchase.  Also, make sure that your browser software is current and up-to-date.

4.  Password protect your mobile device and computer.  It's the simplest and one of the most important steps to take to secure your mobile device and computer. If you need to create an account with the merchant, be sure to use a strong password. Use at least eight characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lowercase letters.    

5.  Do not respond to pop-ups. When a window pops up promising you cash or gift cards for answering a question or taking a survey, close it (press Control + F4 for Windows and Command + W for Macs.)  What seems to be “too good to be true” likely is, and could compromise your computer, or even your identity.

6.  Avoid scams and fraud. Don't ever give your financial information or personal information over email or text.  If a communication from a business seems unusual, check to make sure it is a legitimate communication.  If your favorite charity is asking for your help and you aren’t sure if their message is from them, contact the organization directly to verify the request.

7.  Do not use public computers or public wireless for your online shopping.  Public computers can be very convenient but may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order. Also be wary of public wireless networks, which can be used by criminals to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information.

8.  Check out the terms of the deal. Can you return the item for a full refund if you're not satisfied?  If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees? When will you get your order? A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. 

9.  Print your online transactions.  Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller.  Carefully review your credit card statements as soon as you receive them to confirm that all charges are legitimate.  Contact your credit card company immediately if you have unauthorized charges on your account.

10.  Review privacy policies. Review the privacy policy for the website/merchant you are visiting. Know what information the merchant is collecting about you, how it will be stored, how it will be used, and if it will be shared with others.

Have a happy and SAFE holiday season!



( Photo Credit:  Comstock Images / Stockbyte  / Thinkstock 86807286  )