Americans are in love with both shopping and mobile devices, so naturally technology has helped us combine the two. According to a study by IBM Coremetrics, about 15 percent of American consumers who log into e-retail websites this month will do so using a smartphone, iPad, or other mobile device.
But that's just on the wireless end. IBM also found the number of consumers shopping online in November will increase 15 percent over the same time last year.
All that clicking and shipping means thieves will have more opportunities to steal your identity and your money. Fortunately, playing it safe isn't that difficult. Browse these nine tips to help you shop online without fear.
1. Use Security Software
Even if you don't shop or bank online, you should have security software installed on your computer. The big names in this area include Norton and McAfee, but there's also plenty of good shareware available. (See this cnet article for suggestions.) Make sure this software includes firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware capabilities.
2. Look for the "S"
Once you reach the payment portion of a website, the url address should change from "http" to "https," indicating your purchase is encrypted or secured. Most merchants also display shields from such security companies as VeriSign, GeoTrust, Comodo and Entrust.
3. Use a Unique Password
It's hard to remember different passwords for each site, but you'll have less chance of identity theft if you switch it up. Don't use obvious information, like your address, phone number, birth date, initials, or even your dog's name. Instead, choose a string of eight to 10 random numbers and letters for the highest security.
4. Opt for More Secure Payment Option
Federal law allows you to dispute credit card charges and unauthorized use. Many credit card issuers also offer "zero liability," which means you pay nothing if someone steals your information and uses it. As with credit cards, PayPal provides purchase protection in the form of $0 liability for unauthorized purchases. They also offer refunds for incorrect orders or items that never arrive and a process for resolving problems.
5. Hide Your Identity
Did you ever visit an e-retailer a second time and find the site remembers you in eerie ways? That's because their server used a cookie to identify you. Avoid cookies by using such services as anonymizer.com to hide your identity or GuerrillaMail.com to create a temporary email address that lasts just 60 minutes. One hour is plenty of time to shop, checkout, and receive your confirmation email.
6. Review All the Details
Did you use a coupon code? Then look to see if the savings was deducted at checkout. Same goes for free delivery. If you're a free shipping hound, like many of us these days, wait until Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16 to make your purchases. This one-day event allows you to shop from more than 2,000 merchants with free shipping and delivery by Christmas Eve.
7. Fake Invoices
Some cyber criminals send fake invoices and delivery notifications that look like they were sent from a merchant or transport service. These are easy to spot as the email will request your billing information or require you open an attachment to view an invoice.
8. Research Sellers
Auction sites such as eBay allow buyers to rate sellers based on their dependability and quality of service. Look for high ratings and read through the attached comments before you buy. The same goes with Amazon marketplace sellers.
9. Avoid Shopping on Public Networks
Encryption is often out of your control when shopping via public networks, such as those found at coffee houses, airports, libraries, etc. While it's safe to browse stores and bookmark items you want to buy, non-techie users will want to avoid supplying credit card info, passwords and other personal details. Casual hackers and identity thieves haunt public networks while others create non-password-protected networks that allow them to steal your pertinent information. In short, your best bet is to shop on a secure network.
Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert and has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.
Do you have any other tricks for staying safe while shopping online? Post them here!