How to stay safe when holiday shopping online
Ready or not, holiday shopping season is upon us, and many of us will be buying gifts online. We've put together some tips to help get you safely through your shopping list.
It's that time of the year again, when savvy shoppers like yourself head to your favorite online retailers to avoid the ridiculous shenanigans and flesh-pressing of Black Friday. But just because you know enough to buy online doesn't mean that there aren't some good tips worth paying attention to. Here are a few worth repeating for habitual online shoppers.
Change your passwords now because chances are, you haven't in a long time. Change your e-mail account password, change your banking password, and change the passwords for online shopping accounts like at Amazon. A good tip for choosing new passwords is to use at least four random words separated by spaces, as demonstrated in this XKCD comic. Not all sites accept spaces (such as Microsoft accounts), but many do -- including Google and Amazon. It's a good idea to change them again after you've completed all your seasonal shopping, too.
Log out when you're done. Cookies can often keep you logged in to accounts even after you close the browsing tab, an obvious no-no. Get in the habit of clicking that "log out" button.
Use two browsers to minimize your exposure to vulnerabilities. I use one browser for mission critical transactions such as e-mail and banking, and another for casual browsing.
Browse smarter by looking for HTTPS in the URL bar and green security badges on your shopping sites. If you think you're looking at a legit site and it doesn't have either of those, I would check the URL twice to make sure you're not getting phished.
Pay with a credit card to minimize fraud risks. I realize many people don't want to deal with credit card companies, but they do protect you against fraud. Also, unlike paying with a debit card, you can contest charges without losing any cash.
Use a VPN to encrypt your Web traffic. If you don't have one provided by your work, there are several free options such as TOR (download for Windows | Mac), HotSpot Shield (download for Windows | Mac), or LogMeIn Hamachi are good places to start.
Above all, use your common sense. If a deal sounds too good to be true, take a good look at the Web site before you purchase because it easily could be a scam. And if an unfamiliar site is requesting personal information like your e-mail and log-in, or your home phone number and address, think twice about giving that away. With a bit of caution, you can shop safely and securely online.