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Webroot's safety tips for holiday online shopping

With more than half of the people surveyed by Webroot saying they'll shop online for the holidays, the security vendor has a few words of wisdom for safer shopping in cyberspace.

With a new survey finding that half of the people polled plan to shop online for the holidays, security company Webroot offers some tips and tricks for staying safe in cyberspace.

Among the more than 2,660 consumers surveyed in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia by Webroot, 55 percent said they do plan to buy at least half of their holiday gifts online, a rise from 38 percent last year. But some of those people also plan to use search engines and public Wi-Fi to purchase those presents, activities that Webroot says could put buyers at risk.

Specifically, 48 percent of those polled plan to use search engines for online shopping rather than going directly to a vendor's Web site. Among those folks, 59 percent said they trust the first few pages of results from a search, even though Webroot points out that search results have become more of a target for malicious links.

Of all the consumers questioned, 18 percent said they're likely to use a public Wi-Fi network to pay for presents online, a slight rise from 12 percent last year. And 23 percent of all those polled said they feel completely safe shopping over a free, public Wi-Fi connection.

Many don't look for the right signs when shopping online. Webroot found that 52 percent don't check for a secure https connection before spending money, while 50 percent don't watch for the padlock in the browser's status bar before shelling out their money.

On the plus side, 72 percent of the respondents said they use complex passwords. But only 37 percent use different passwords for each site where they shop.

"This holiday season, we want to make it easy for people to buy gifts online safely," Jeff Horne, threat research director at Webroot, said in a statement. "Through our survey, we learned that one in seven respondents has already become a victim of credit, debit, or PayPal account fraud this year. In addition, 57 percent received phishing emails from bogus sources claiming to be a legitimate company--something we see rise around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To end the year on a safe note, we urge all online shoppers to adopt some best practices before breaking out their holiday gift lists."

Toward that end, Webroot has compiled a list of five tips for safe shopping online:

1. "Go straight to the site." Rather than browse to online retailers through a search engine where you may encounter malicious links, type the store's URL directly in your browser.

2. "Be strict about passwords." Use a different password for each site, don't let the browser store passwords for you, and consider using a password manager instead of writing down all your passwords manually.

3. "Look for the 'signs of security.'" Always look for the https prefix in the URL and the padlock icon in the browser's status bar. If you shop at an online retailer that uses SSL encryption, make sure the address bar turns green as a signal that the page is secure.

4. "Keep PayPal your pal." Check your PayPal accounts frequently to look out for any fraud. Use a credit card rather than a debit card online so you can stop payments quickly in the event of a problem.

5. "Watch for seasonal scams." Be cautious with e-mails claiming to be shipping confirmation or package alerts that force you to open a file attachment. Delete any message that claims to provide tracking information but doesn't include a tracking number. Your best bet is to track a package through the retailer's or shipper's Web site.