Safe Online Shopping Tips for The Holiday Season

The holidays are just around the corner, and that means many of us will be making purchases online to avoid large crowds and busy mall traffic. While online shopping has made our lives easier, it also exposes new weaknesses with the information we use to make those very purchases.

The holiday season is a lucrative time for online retailers and cybercriminals see this as an opportunity to profit as well. In fact, Norton Safe Web found that shopping sites are amongst the top ten most frequently exploited websites. An additional concern is bogus e-commerce websites, which are made to look legit but are only built to steal your credit card information.

If you plan to do any online shopping this year, it’s important to know how to identify a secure online vendor. The best way to protect yourself and others from cyber criminals is to be proactive about the security features available and get to how they work.

Why Protect Yourself?

Whether you know it or not, you’ve already benefited from security features developed to protect personal data like passwords, usernames, and credit card numbers. Websites designed by financial institutions, insurance companies, and government agencies like the DMV all contain sophisticated security features to help keep your private information safe from cyber espionage.

Most of us never even think about checking the online security status of a preferred online vendor—and that’s because nowadays most of us take online security for granted. However, cyber attackers are more sophisticated today than ever before. In 2014, online scams shared by friends on social media increased by 70 percent.

Online threats are not limited to large corporations—anyone can be a victim. For this reason, it’s important to know what to look for to ensure a safe online shopping experience.

Online Shopping Security Features Customers Should Seek

Unless you know what to look for, you won’t be able to identify the security features of online vendors. In particular, you should be looking for an SSL Certification, which you can verify that in a few ways:

Look for the addition of an ‘S’ to the  ‘http://’ at the beginning of a vendor’s URL. Look for visual cues indicating security, such as a lock symbol and green color in the address bar. Look for the addition of an ‘S’ to the  ‘http://’ at the beginning of a vendor’s URL. Before entering a credit card payment or any confidential information make sure that the website in your browser address bar turns green or begins with HTTPS and not HTTP.  This is an indicator that your session is secure and that the site is using encryption to protect your personal data. This protocol is known as SSL—Secure Socket Layer—encryption and it protects online transactions by keeping data in transit confidential through encryption. In other words, your information is not visible to hackers.

Other Ways To Stay Secure:

While you’re shopping on a website, some of these security features may not be present. Here are some other tips on how to stay protected while spreading the holiday cheer:

  • Don’t click on unexpected emails or links to “deals” that seem to good to be true. During the holiday season a phishing attempt may come in the form of an email advertising a great deal, but the links within the email will direct you to a bogus website that was built to capture victim’s personal information. Have your guard up for emails and text messages advertising holiday deals that seem to good to be true – most likely they are. Although spam can seem harmless, avoid clicking on links and downloading files from unknown sources. Phishing emails and websites often contain typos and spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • Use the latest, updated version of your Internet browser to avoid security holes, which are other ways malware can be snuck in.
  • Use a VPN when you browse. This encrypts your traffic so even if someone manages to eavesdrop, they’ll just have a bunch of encrypted data. VPNs, or virtual private networks, like Norton WiFi Privacy can turn Wi-Fi into secured private connections.
  • Check to ensure your purchases and transactions are taking place on a secure site. You can actually find out a lot about a website’s security by looking for visual cues. Scan the entire site for trust marks. Norton Secure Seal is a widely recognized trust mark which provides evidence that a retailer’s identity has been verified and the website is secured by Symantec.
  • Shopping guarantees are another important trust mark. The Norton Shopping Guarantee assures shoppers that they are safe from identity theft, in addition to purchase and the lowest price guarantees.
  • Use a comprehensive Internet security solution such as Norton Security and ensure that it is always up to date.
  • Beware of identity theft. You may not know it right away if a criminal has gotten a hold of your financial information. You can be proactive by closely monitoring all of your financial accounts, and signing up for text or email alerts if the institution offers them. Norton can make it easy to have proactive protection in place with Norton Identity Protection Elite. Norton helps monitor everything online about you- from financial accounts, Social Media, and your credit report. Norton Identity Protection can even provide restoration services if you become a victim of identity theft.
  • Always use strong passwords, update them regularly, and never reuse the same password on for multiple accounts. This is especially important for accounts that contain your personal information. Norton Identity Safe is a tool you can use to manage your passwords for free.
  • Lastly, if you are still unsure about the credibility of a website you can use Norton Safe Web, a free online tool, that can help identify risky websites as you shop.

Shopping online is easy and convenient, provided that you’re vigilant about online security. If you don’t see any of the above security features on a vendor’s website, it would be wise to look elsewhere for the product or service you desire. Checking with organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) can also help weed out poorly managed online shopping sites.


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