Safe Online Shopping

By Leslie Meredith

Take simple precautions when shopping online

Chances are you'll be whipping out the credit card to buy something online over the next three months. Holiday shopping takes off the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, and in recent years, the following Monday has earned its own shopping name: Cyber Monday. This extended weekend is the official start to the holiday shopping season, and each year more shoppers buy from the comfort of their own home rather than elbow their way through crowds.

Last year’s big online winners were Samsung’s 52” LCD TV, the Nintendo Wii, Ugg boots and a Sony Blu-ray player. Expect more of the same this year, but with a drop in TV screen size as consumers curb their tendency to splurge.


Online shopping is convenient: one click takes you from store to store, but it's important to shop safely. Instead of parking lot thieves out to steal your new purchases, online thieves are out for your credit card information, and perhaps to do a little shopping of their own on your account.

Ten years ago, the biggest threat to computer users were viruses written to disable computers or destroy data, like email contacts. Today the black hats are rarely satisfied with simple destruction, they want something for their efforts.

I asked TopTenREVIEWS Information Technology Director, David Ropelato, what advice he would give his mom for shopping safely online. If it's good for Mom, it's good for all of us.

Install reputable internet security suite software. New computers usually come with an antivirus package, but you must renew the software when prompted to continue the protection. This is not a scam. New viruses are released every day, and if you don't renew your protection, your computer is susceptible to a new viruses. Once renewed, the software will update automatically, the best update daily.

Mac users are not exempt. There's a common misperception Mac computers are immune to virus attacks. Realize it's not the Mac, it's the fact that hackers have not been interested in writing viruses for the Mac, there are simply not enough users to make it worthwhile. According to Gartner’s 2009 figures, Mac has a modest 7.5 per cent share of the U.S. computer market. Security software is available for Mac. While many users dismiss it as unnecessary, most colleges, including Stanford and Harvard, require it.

No security software or computer operating system can protect you from your own careless activities online. Think before you click. When you're using a search engine like Google to find a product, click on sites or brands you recognize. Better yet, identify your favorite stores and go directly to their sites. You won't get into trouble.

But sometimes you're looking for an unusual gift, and are unfamiliar with the sites that come up in your search. Try a free program called SiteAdvisor by McAfee. It works with your browser, like Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Once downloaded, the software will add small icons to your search results. Green stands for safe, yellow means caution, red indicates serious risk and
gray lets you know the site has not been tested.

When you've decided to purchase a product from a site, check that the site is secure. Look for a third party certification emblem like Hacker Safe or VeriSign. Once you've clicked on the shopping cart, look back up in the url or address at the top of your browser. The address for the purchase page will begin with https. Note the “s” on the end: it stands for security, and means the site is certified by a third party.

You will also see a padlock icon in the lower right hand corner. Double click it and a window will open with the details of the security certificate provided for the site by the third party. If your browser opens a warning message the certificate has expired, move on to another site. If all is in order, proceed with your payment information.

Follow these tips for safe shopping online, and pass them on to Mom, Dad and the kids.

Safe Online Shopping