‘Tis the season for… cyber threats: How to stay safe online

The Monday after Thanksgiving is known as “Cyber Monday”–traditionally one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. In fact, The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that 42 percent of Americans plan to shop online this season.

Unfortunately, just as shoppers hit the Internet to search for deals, cybercriminals are trolling the Web for their next victims. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), November and December are the months when the majority of online identity theft problems occur. And, a significant increase in malicious shopping Web sites are launched between October and December, according to Webroot, an antivirus and antispyware software company.

Practice safe online techniques this holiday season. Protect your personal information and make the most of your cyber shopping experience with these online safety tips:

Think before you click. Never click links to unfamiliar Web sites. If you use a search engine to find gifts, treat every result with caution – especially the ones promising a link to an unbelievable deal.

Install security software. At a minimum, protect your PC with up-to-date security software and antivirus protection.

Know the retailer. If you are unfamiliar with the retailer you want to purchase from, look for more information about the company. Consider asking friends and family for recommendations.

Use a credit card, not a debit card. If you are a victim of fraud or cybercrime, most credit card agreements limit your liability for the charges.

Monitor your credit report. It is important to monitor your credit report on a regular basis to quickly spot anything unusual or suspicious. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for one free annual credit report from each of the three bureaus.

Keep your password safe. Never reveal your password to anyone. When selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, such as your birth date or driver’s license number. The best passwords are hard to guess and have at least eight characters and include numbers and letters.

Finally, only make purchases from secure Web sites. The easiest way to tell if a site is secure is to look at the web address on the page where you’re entering your credit card information. Secured Web site start with “https:” instead of “http:.” For more tips on how to stay safe while shopping online, visit the FTC’s “Fight Back Against Identity Theft” Web site.

Alexis Holloway is a former copywriter and e-Commerce Coordinator for MMI.