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Eight important cyber security steps for holiday shopping online

(BPT) - Remember the days when keeping track of your wallet and hiding packages in the trunk were all you had to do to ensure your holidays were safe and secure? Fast forward to 2012 - when the National Retail Federation says nearly 52 percent of holiday gift-givers will be shopping online - and staying secure requires more effort.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a joint initiative of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, logged more than 300,000 complaints of online crime in 2011. The adjusted dollar loss of those complaints topped $485 million, the IC3 says. To avoid becoming an unhappy holiday statistic, consider these eight tips to help ensure your online shopping stays as safe as possible this holiday season:

1. Update your software – Before you start shopping, make sure your virus protection, anti-malware and firewall software are all up to date, active, and set to update automatically. Check your browser to ensure it’s the most up-to-date version and if there are any security patches you should download.

2. Be a wary buyer – If an online deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. It’s unlikely you’re really going to get a brand new iPad for just $10, so treat inflated offers with a healthy dose of skepticism. Scammers will often offer these “deals” as a way to entice you to provide personal and financial information that they can then use to steal your identity or your money. Be wary of the type of information requested for your purchase. While a legitimate seller will certainly need your credit card information and mailing address, there’s never a reason why a merchant should need your Social Security or driver’s license numbers.

3. Shop securely – Avoid sites that don’t have clearly identifiable protections in place. Web URLs should start with “https” – the “s” indicates “secure” – and look for a lock symbol toward the bottom of the page that indicates the online merchant has security software in place. Use credit cards for purchases – rather than a debit card or bank transfer – as they offer additional layers of consumer protections for online shoppers.

4. Don’t shop through emails – Clickable links in emails can be suspect and may take you to a page whose sole purpose is to collect your personal information. If you get a suspicious email offer purporting to be from a reputable vendor, bypass the email link, go directly to the vendor website and look for the deal on the merchant’s website.

5. Do your homework – Check out an unknown vendor through reputable online resources like the Better Business Bureau. Look for consumer complaints. Check out consumer review sites to see what others have to say about the vendor.

6. Save your backup – Save receipts, order confirmations and order numbers. This information can help you if you don’t receive the merchandise you’ve paid for and need to pursue it with the company or file a consumer complaint.

7. Shop on a trusted network – Keep your online shopping activities confined to networks you know are secure – such as your own secured home wireless network. Be careful using public networks or Wi-Fi hotspots for your online shopping – they may be easier for hackers to access.

8. Keep an eye on your credit – Unfortunately, holiday shopping and identity theft go hand in hand these days. Throughout the holiday season, pay especially close attention to your credit accounts. Check your credit report at least once during and after the season. Consider looking into identity protection from ProtectMyID, a comprehensive identity theft detection, protection and resolution product designed to help people protect against the damages (often financial) caused by identity theft.

Holiday shopping online can be convenient and easy – and a great source of bargains. But while you’re shopping for the perfect holiday deal, be sure to take steps to protect your financial information and your identity from thieves and scammers. Preventive measures and smart shopping practices can help ensure the season is bright for you, and not for cyber crooks.

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