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Be careful about providing your personal or financial information when you are shopping online. An indicator that a vendor has taken measures to secure its site is the "https:" in the website URL or a padlock in the browser's status bar. The "s" in https stands for secure and shows that the site is using SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption.

Aside from paying attention to such indicators, use some common sense when purchasing anything online. 

Secure browsing tips

Read website privacy policies. They should explain what is being collected, how the information is being used, whether it is provided to third parties and what security measures the company takes to protect your information. The privacy policy should also tell you whether you have a right to see what information the website has about you. If you don't see a privacy policy - or you can't understand it - consider doing business elsewhere.

Be wary about what types of information are being requested. No legitimate shopping website would ask for your Social Security number and date of birth, for example.

Check statements. Especially during the winter holiday season, regularly check your online banking information to make sure that no unauthorized charges have appeared on your bank and credit card statements. If you see something wrong, call your bank or credit card company immediately.

Use virus protection. Sometimes you don't need to be giving out your information for it to be put at risk. If a virus is downloaded to your computer, a criminal can use that vulnerability to access files on your computer or to capture your keystrokes when you're logging in to your online accounts.

Use strong passwords. Pick something that is hard to guess and don't use the same password for all of your shopping websites. Some ways to avoid forgetting your passwords is to use a combination of the vendors name with a password you use only for shopping online. If you do this, it is also a good idea to change your password several times a year.

Protect mobile devices. Many consumers use their mobile devices to do their shopping. When doing so, there should be protective features on those devices, for example encrypting them or locking them with a password.

Avoiding public terminals. Whipping out your credit card a public space makes it more likely that criminals could be in the area, looking over your shoulder. If the computer is not yours but belongs to the cafe or hotel, you never can be sure what someone has installed on the computer, designed to steal that kind of information.

Scams. During the season when consumers are spending more online, there are going to be criminals waiting to snag the unwary customer. Be sure to visit familiar websites, and use ads or coupons that appear only on those sites.