How to Protect Yourself While Holiday Shopping

2014 Holiday Shopping Windows - Chicago, Illinois
Getty ImagesIt's not to early to prepare for holiday shopping.

By Jon Lal

The busy holiday shopping season is nearly underway, so now is an ideal time to brush up on the safest ways to shop. In an increasingly digital world, there are precautions you can take to keep your personal information safe, secure and confidential. Consider these tips as you prepare to shop in stores, online or on your mobile device in the coming months.

In-store shopping:

A general rule of thumb when shopping with a credit or debit card is to regularly check your statement and online account for charges that you don't recognize. As soon as you notice something that isn't right, call your bank or credit card company to report it. Your financial institution will address the situation quickly and minimize the damage to your account; most banks and credit card companies have entire divisions devoted to fighting fraud. In fact, chances are that they'll notice something as gone wrong before you do.

During the holiday shopping season, hold on to your receipts and keep them in a secure place. It might be helpful for verifying charges or statements; plus, you might need them for returns or exchanges.

Of course, you can always use cash when you shop in stores if you want to eliminate the chance of your personal information being stolen in any kind of hack or data breach. One downside of this is missing out on the discounts and coupons that are available when using some store's rewards cards, or the points and cash back you can earn on your own credit cards. There's also the risk of losing or misplacing the dollar bills in your pocket.

The important thing to remember when a store is hacked after you have shopped there is not to panic. Your bank or credit card company will be able to walk you through next steps, and you won't be responsible for any charges.

Online and mobile shopping:

Shopping online is convenient and fun, can save you a ton of time and offers a number of ways to save money. You can find coupon codes, earn cash back and hunt bargains across the web. That being said, new online stores and mobile apps are popping up every day and it is important to know exactly where you're shopping. You should always check the address bar or top of your Internet browser for a padlock icon, which indicates that the website you are on is secure. Additionally, look for the "s" at the end of "http" in a website's URL address.

Thanks to laptops, tablets and mobile devices, you can shop online virtually anywhere. However, it's recommended you only do so while on a secure network connection. Shopping online on public Wi-Fi leaves your information vulnerable and exposed to anyone else on that network.

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-884%On that same note, keep your information safe when you shop on your mobile device or tablet. If you are downloading a new app, verify it is from a trusted source. Read the permissions carefully before you agree to download it and find out what access and information you are granting the app. You might not want to share personal data or your location, for example. Use a security code on your phone or table and keep it "locked" at all times, especially when unattended. That way, if you lose it, the person who finds it won't have immediate access to whatever accounts are available through your phone.

Your phone can be a helpful security tool for your online accounts. Opt for text message verification whenever possible with online banking or shopping. This is a relatively new security feature that allows you to connect an account to your cellphone. That way, if any changes are requested on your account, such as a new password or mailing address, it will send a code to your phone and require you to enter the code online before making any changes.

A few other tips to keep your information secure include keeping your antivirus software updated regularly on your computer, maintaining "healthy" password hygiene by frequently updating and differentiating all of your passwords, and never clicking on a link in an email if you are not familiar with the sender. Google it first and make sure the results are verified and secure. Also confirm that the email is really from the source it says it is.

As long as you follow these tips, you will be able to enjoy a safe and secure holiday shopping season this year.

Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

Originally published