Columnist Lauryn Jashinsky has offered lots of tips on staying safe while shopping online:
- Start off by making sure your computer's security software is up to date, and be sure to use strong passwords when you shop. (It's smart to use different passwords, too, at each store.)
- Check retailers out at the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) -- or just stick with the stores you know.
- Don't enter any personal information, such as credit card numbers, until you make sure the site is safe. (Look for a padlock icon by the address, or a URL that begins with https or, more rarely, shttp.) Know that credit cards or services such as PayPal are safer than debit cards.
- Create a paper record of your online shopping, printing out description pages of the items you buy (including their prices), as well as online receipts, any correspondence with sellers, and sellers' terms of sale.
- Don't respond to unsolicited emails that arrive announcing great deals. They can be scams. Instead, go find good deals on your own. (You can also go to your favorite retailers' sites and sign up for their updates, or follow them at sites such as Facebook or Twitter.)
You'll also do well to only use WiFi networks you trust, and to look for third-party seals of approval on retailer sites, such as those from Truste and the Better Business Bureau. Be wary even of your friends -- if you see an email or even a Facebook post from a friend tauting some great deal, be careful, as their computer may have been compromised and the great deal might actually be a virus.
When you're finished shopping, turn your computer completely off, as computers that stay on for long periods give troublemakers more time to install viruses or other malware.