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5 Safe Online Shopping Tips for This Holiday Season

Keep the Grinch from stealing your data with these tips for safe online shopping

If Black Friday is the traditional holiday shopping kickoff for bricks (i.e., brick-and-mortar stores), then Cyber Monday is considered the kickoff for clicks. This term was coined for the phenomenon involving the Monday after Thanksgiving - the one day out of the year when people rush to work... so they can use their high-speed office computers to take advantage of fantastic online sales.

Though it’s still a massive holiday sales day, thanks to huge deals and free shipping, Cyber Monday is really just the beginning of the online holiday shopping season.

Now, people shop all season long from the convenience of their couch, commuter train or local coffee shop, using phones, tablets and other mobile devices

In a recent survey of 1,215 mobile device users, Webroot found that 50 percent of respondents are likely to purchase holiday gifts using their smartphones or tablets this shopping season - up from 22 percent who did so in 2010.

There is no better time to shop online than the holidays, when the hoards of shoppers can sap your energy and holiday spirit. But the Grinch may be stealing more than the presents from Whoville; he might be stealing your personal information if you don’t take precautions for safe online holiday shopping.

5 safe online shopping tips:

1. Ho-ho-hold on before you click on a link delivered to you in an email. Can’t wait to buy that Chia Pet for 80 percent off? Beware clicking on links you receive from unfamiliar websites. It could be a "phishing" scheme, where shoppers who click through are led to a false site developed to steal their data. If the deal is too good to pass up, enter the website name by hand into your browser.

2. Santa’s watching! And so are thieves unless you lock your device. Webroot found that a surprising 53 percent of respondents leave their devices unlocked, which can expose their personal information to prying eyes. Most devices request that you lock it with a password or code; take advantage of this feature to keep your information secure.

3. 'Appy holidays: For safe online shopping, make sure your apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for various "permissions." Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense... for example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list? Another way to check on the safety of apps is to read through the feedback in the comments section of the market and choose apps with a high rating.

4. There’s no place like home for the holidays... for safe online holiday shopping. Remember, a secure network connection - like that in most homes or workplaces - is ideal. Public Wi-Fi can be hacked by someone with the right tools, exposing your passwords, billing information and other sensitive data. Therefore, if you’re using a public connection, it’s best to limit yourself to window-shopping and price comparing, rather than buying.

5. Deck your halls: A security app is more than ornamental window dressing -it’s vital for online shopping. Webroot found that only 40 percent of respondents have a security app installed on their smartphones and tablets, putting their devices and personal information at risk. Take a hint from older surfers: While younger users more often use their devices for shopping - to place orders, compare prices and download coupons - the survey found that users ages 50 and older were more likely to have security on their device.

Above all, to stay healthy and wealthy, you’ve got to be wise. Just as you would exercise caution with your wallet and belongings in a crowded store, remember to be as vigilant in the World Wide Mall. Keep your cyber information secure while enjoying safe holiday shopping online. The number one way to protect your device and data is to install mobile anti-virus software and make sure it is up to date. In fact, it just might be the perfect gift for everyone on your shopping list!

By Cathie Ericson