Sketch of laptop with thief on keyboard
Cyber criminals are out to play during the online shopping season. (Image: UHN)

It's the most wonderful time of the year – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, holiday gift-giving season.

For many people, browsing an endless catalogue online is far more appealing than going to a busy shopping mall, where parking is scarce and crowds are enormous.

Pickpockets might not exist in cyber space but identity thieves do, and these cyber criminals are out to play during this online shopping season.

Before sharing any credit card information with an online store flaunting amazing deals, remember – it pays to be cyber savvy. Here are seven tips for safe online shopping from UHN Digital Security:

1. Use a credit card – not debit

In this case, it's okay to pay with plastic. Unlike debit cards, credit cards offer more fraud protection and are not linked to your personal bank account. If someone were to hack your debit or your Paypal, you would be at a greater risk of losing your information or money.

2. Only shop on secure sites

Before providing any online vendor with your information, check if the page URL has "https" at the beginning of the site address. All legitimate shopping sites will have this for your protection.

If you don't see the full five letters, that means the site and any data you share will not be encrypted or secure.

3. Watch out for email discount scams or other phishy messages

More email scammers tend to appear during the holidays, luring shoppers with fake special deals and tricking them into revealing personal information. Don't open an email from a site you haven't visited and do some research on any "special offer" before clicking on any links.

4. Steer clear of phony shopping apps

Only download shopping apps from reliable sources, such as the Apple Store or Google Play. Check the name of the developer, read the online reviews and pay attention to what permissions the app asks for. If something seems off and the app is asking for access to your all contacts, it may be a phony.

5. Update your computer's protection software

Updating your anti-virus or Internet Browser version are small things you can do before shopping online. Cyber security threats are constantly developing and changing and the latest software updates can protect you from any new attacks.

6. Don't use public Wi-Fi to shop

Public networks are not secured and likely will not encrypt your data. A hacker connected to the same network could capture your identity – whether you're connected through your computer or phone. Although you may want to shop quickly to take advantage of a deal, you should wait until you're home or connected with a protected Internet connection.

7. Most importantly, trust your gut

You probably wouldn't shop at a store you don't recognize or simply doesn't seem legitimate. That same gut feeling should apply when shopping online. If anything seems strange or you feel you are giving out too much information, cancel the transaction or immediately leave the site. Your personal and financial information is not worth the risk.

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