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10 tips for holiday online shopping

The last-minute holiday shopping crunch is upon us, and shoppers across the nation are making online purchases in record numbers. In fact, a recent study showed that more than half of consumers say they will buy most of their holiday gifts via the Internet this year.

With credit card numbers flying through cyberspace, make sure you take steps to protect your security if you're shopping online this year, say the experts at the Minnesota Society of CPAs. Following these tips can keep an online Grinch from ruining your holiday cheer.

Top 10 tips for online shopping:

1. Verify the company and website. One of the most important first steps you can take is to make sure you're actually making a purchase from a legitimate business. Independent websites like and Biz Rate will let you read what other consumers have to say about a business. The Better Business Bureau Online ( offers consumers a list of safe shopping sites. When in doubt, go with a reputable company name.

2. Look for signs of security. When it's time to input your payment information, look for an "s" after http in the Web address, ensuring your data is encrypted as it is transmitted. Also look for a tiny closed padlock in the address bar or on the lower right corner of the window. As an added security measure, update your Web browser. The most recent versions of Web browsers are typically the most secure.

3. Be skeptical. We're all looking for a bargain, but approach a deal that seems too good to be true with caution. Submitting your information to an unknown company to purchase a new computer for $25 could be risky. Paying the higher price through a trusted vendor may be the difference between a secure purchase and a compromised credit card number.

4. Keep it private. Avoid shopping and inputting your credit card number and personal information on public computers. Hackers prey on shared computers.

5. Pay with plastic. Yes, financial planners often tell you not to run up your credit card bill, and that still holds, but using your credit card for online purchases offers you some protection. If there are any problems, you can work with your credit card company to file and resolve a dispute. Incidentally, many credit cards offer protection or insurance on purchases. In lieu of using plastic, many retailers will allow you to use a third-party payment service as PayPal, which guarantees your purchase. And, ultimately, credit cards offer more security than debit cards.

6. Print, save, stash. Don't forget to keep records of your purchases. Print and save your receipts and e-mail confirmations. You'll need these if you encounter any problems.

7. Password protect. It's time to get a little more sophisticated with your choice of passwords; abcd123 isn't going to cut it. Today's hackers are smart and determined. Get creative and use a combination of letters and numbers. Some sites will even allow you to use special symbols.

8. Privacy policy. In short, make sure the vendor has one and that they outline how they'll protect your information.

9. Be careful where you click. Go directly to a seller's website versus clicking on a link you receive in an e-mail or stumble across on another site. Clicking on unknown links can take you places you'd rather not go.

10. Check it out. When your credit card statement arrives, go over it with a fine-tooth comb, making certain all of the purchases on there are yours. If you question a line item, call the credit card company immediately. Don't forget to check a store's online purchase policy as well, should you need to exchange or return an item.

A secure and happy holiday season

There are a lot of great online deals this holiday season. By taking a few simple precautions, you can shop wisely without jeopardizing your online security.

For more personal financial planning advice, consult your CPA. To locate a CPA, visit