It’s that time of year again. If you just don’t have time to go from store to store looking for that perfect gift, you may be heading online to shop. Online shopping can be a great experience, but it can also lead to all sorts of problems – not just for your computer, but also for your credit card.

Here are some of our best tips to help keep your experience safe and positive this holiday season:

Don’t use public Wi-Fi for making online purchases.

Most businesses that provide free Wi-Fi don’t encrypt your data. This means anyone else using the same hot spot can intercept your data using widely available software. Feel free to look around and bookmark the items you want, but wait to make that purchase until you’re on a protected network. This also applies when using your cell phone over public Wi-Fi.

Smartphones aren’t always a smart choice for shopping.

Yes, your phone does a great job surfing the web. However, it likely lacks anti-virus software, leaving it uniquely susceptible to attack. Cell phones also often display shortened URLs, so it’s not always easy to tell which website you’re actually visiting. Even though tapping lengthy passwords into your cell phone can be a pain, resist the temptation to allow its browser to save your passwords for you. If your phone gets lost or stolen, cached passwords are there for anyone to use. Most phones have a built in screen locking feature. Better yet, use a tool like LastPass to store your passwords in a secure, encrypted way. Back up your phone frequently and avoid using it to make purchases.

Look for HTTPS in the URL.

A URL that starts with HTTPS (instead of just HTTP) is secure. Never ever enter your credit card number or other personal information on a web page that does not start with HTTPS. Sometimes the URL is displayed in green, and usually there is an icon to the left of a closed lock or a key. These icons indicate various levels of encryption and vary by browser. Clicking the icon in your browser of choice will display more detailed information about the type of encryption being used and whether or not it is installed and working correctly.

Trust your instincts.

If the website you are attempting to shop at seems shady, fills your screen with pop-ups, asks for weird information, or just looks like it was built decades ago, be wary. Trust your gut – a great price may not be worth the hassle of having your information stolen or never getting your order. Also, before placing your order, make sure to check for real contact information.

On a side note, if you’re a retailer with an old looking eCommerce site, call Appletree Mediaworks – we’ll get you up to 2017 standards and gain your consumers’ trust back.

Update your system and passwords.

Those annoying computer updates and browser updates exist (for the most part) to apply security patches to known vulnerabilities. Be sure to update your computer often. Also, don’t use the same password for all of your shopping accounts. That makes them all vulnerable if one site gets hacked. You’d be surprised how many eCommerce databases still store passwords unencrypted.  It’s also helpful to update your passwords frequently so you don’t find out that your password was stolen in a breach months before the press release was issued from a store.

Other online scams to watch for:

Email Links

The email phishermen have improved their game lately and it’s getting more difficult to tell the scam emails from the real ones. Real companies won’t ask for your personal information to be updated via an email. When in doubt, don’t follow the link, but instead manually type in the company’s URL directly into your browser.

Also, watch for fake invoices from delivery services. These can be especially tricky for small businesses that do receive invoices by email. As a general rule, if you don’t recognize the sender, delete the email. In any case, be sure you have an up to date virus scanner running on your email.

Holiday Freebies

E-cards. these fun messages are often riddled with malware and pop-ups. Thanks, but no thanks. A free fun app by email? Don’t click on the link or download it unless you are getting it from a trusted online app store such as Apple, Android, Amazon, or Windows. Same goes for free dating links, products and more. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Luxury items at great prices

Yep those high fashion items at dollar store prices are probably fakes. Use your gut on these.

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