Shopping online has really become the preferred way for many to find the perfect gift for those they care about; it’s convenient, you can find great deals and the gifts can be shipped directly to the recipient. However, there are risks associated with providing credit card and/or financial information to any website, and last week was a reminder of those hazards. Earlier this week, Amazon disclosed to their customers that email address and names were released in a “Black Friday data leak.” The online company insists their information wasn’t hacked and no breach occurred, but that there was a “technical error where names and email addresses were inadvertently disclosed.”

What does that even mean?

It means – in whatever term or context – information that shouldn’t have been released, was released.

So how can you keep yourself, and your information, secure this holiday season?

First, scan for malware. Malware programs can detect keystrokes, which then make it easy for hackers to gather your personal information. Always check that the website is a legit site and hesitate to click on links that are included in emails. Shop with established companies without spelling errors in their names and that end in “.com.” If a website has a physical location, chances are it’s safe to shop. Avoid shopping on websites that don’t have the SSL encryption; it stands for Secure Sockets Layer. Another way to tell if a site is secure is by the padlock symbol in the address bar, and the beginning of the address changing from, “http,” to “https.”

If you are using a credit card to make an online purchase, use one that offers online fraud protection. Even if a card doesn’t offer fraud protection or insurance, keep a record of all online purchases and frequently review billing statements to ensure that no fraudulent activity has occurred. If you’re making a purchase with a company that isn’t well known, research as much as you can about them. Checking the Better Business Bureau and reviews from others who’ve ordered can help prevent a negative experience.

Perhaps the most important tip is to be aware of the information you’re providing. Never make a purchase from a public or shared computer, and never give out information such as your social security number. Online purchases should only ask for credit card information, address and a phone number. The more personal information a website requests, the higher the chances are for a cyberattack to occur and your identity to be compromised.

Online shopping is the best method for many, as long as precautions are taken to insure cyber

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