The California State Attorney General's Office has issued some online safety tips for those individuals turning to the World Wide Web to shop for the holidays.
1. Consider investing in antivirus and anti-spyware software. If you already have antivirus software, be sure to download the latest security updates, as there are new viruses and malicious programs every day.
2. Use a credit card instead of a debit card. A stolen debit card gives an identity thief a direct line to your bank account, whereas credit cards offer added protection from fraudulent transactions. To be safe, don't store your credit card numbers online, and review your credit card bills monthly for unauthorized charges.
3. Make purchases through websites that offer secure connections. When shopping online, choose websites or e-merchants that offer heightened SSL (Secure Socket Layer) security to protect your personal information. Before inputting your phone or credit card number, check your browser's status bar for an unbroken "padlock" icon, which indicates the site uses SSL. Also, because most email accounts are not secure, it's best not to send payment information in an email.
4. Watch what you post online. The Internet has made it easy to store and share information, but we should be careful when sharing personal information online. Avoid posting addresses and phone numbers on social networking sites, or storing credit card information and passwords in your email account.
5. Strengthen all your passwords and PINs. With so many passwords and personal identification numbers to remember these days, it's tempting to use a birthday, child's name, consecutive numbers, or other predictable passwords or PINs. Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols to protect your shopping and email accounts with the strongest possible passwords.
6. Talk to your kids about the dangers of online shopping. Children are often so comfortable and confident online they don't think they need to take special precautions. And identity thieves know this; kids are among their prime targets. Supervise your kids' online shopping and talk to them about keeping their information secure.
7. Shop at trusted websites. Everyone wants to find the best deals when shopping online, but be cautious when using unfamiliar websites. When shopping at a site that is new or unfamiliar, review customer reviews and Better Business Bureau listings to check the site's legitimacy.
8. Be wary of fake online stores. Many online scammers steal personal information by redirecting shoppers to fake web pages that look like the checkout pages of legitimate shopping sites. To avoid these traps, be careful what links you click. Set your browser to block pop-up windows, and make sure you type in the store's web address into your browser window instead of clicking links from email or other websites.
9. Guard your Social Security number. There's no reason for an online shopping site to request your Social Security number to make a routine purchase.