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The Boston Globe

Business

Eileen AJ Connelly

FYI: 5 tips for staying safe while shopping online

Retailers expect nearly half of all shoppers to make at least one online purchase this holiday season, and more than a third to use the Internet to compare prices or research products.

But those who wouldn’t think of leaving their wallet or purse unattended are often far less careful when searching for bargains on the Web.

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Whether you’re using a computer or a smartphone, before you enter your credit card information, make sure you’re shopping safely. Here are five P’s to keep in mind:

Passwords: Strong passwords are the first line of defense against hackers, but most people don’t go the extra mile. If your password contains a simple combination like “abc123,’’ or word like “password’’ or something similarly easy, you’re at risk. One place to test the strength of a password is Microsoft’s password checker, http://bit.ly/fvaesw.

A strong password should include at least five letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. And, it’s not safe to use the same one for multiple sites or devices.

Padlocks: Before placing an online order, look for a padlock symbol or “https’’ in the address line on your browser. That indicates that the website uses technology that encrypts your data.

It’s especially important to check the security of a site if you’ve never shopped there before, or if it’s not a widely known merchant. Data thieves have been known to create sites that mimic legitimate shopping venues and use them to snatch information.

Phishing: If you receive an e-mail that appears to be from a store you’ve shopped at, or your bank or credit card company, be wary about clicking on any links it contains. You could be the target of an identity thief.

Banks and credit card companies never send e-mails asking for updates on account or personal information. If you receive something that appears to be a phishing e-mail, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint project of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center, at www.ic3.gov.

It may also be helpful to call your bank or card company using the phone number on your statement or your card, and confirm your accounts are secure.

Personal assistance: Online retailers frequently offer shoppers the option of chatting “live’’ with a customer service representative, but that little pop-up window could be a hacker looking to steal your financial information. Never place an order or enter an account number or other personal details in a live chat.

Prepaid cards: If you’re concerned about identity theft, it might be worthwhile to purchase a prepaid card to use online instead of a credit or debit card. These reloadable cards may be used just like credit and debit cards, but spending is limited to the amount loaded onto them. Designating a prepaid card to use online can protect your identity, and your budget.

Eileen AJ Connelly writes for the Associated Press.
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