More and more people are shopping online this holiday season, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online shopping is convenient and you can shop 24/7, avoid fighting traffic or crowds, browse a vast product selection and compare prices among multiple retailers.

While online shopping is convenient, it can come with some risks. Here are some tips to help keep you safe while online shopping:

1 – Check for the lock. Always ensure you are using a secure internet connection when making an online purchase. Reputable websites will use technologies such as secure socket layer (SSL) that encrypts data during transmission. You can find the lock icon on your browser, usually accompanied by https in front of the url. Here’s an example of what the lock icon looks like:

2 – Use secure Wi-Fi connections. Avoid using free public Wi-Fi hot spots when making purchases. While accessing Wi-Fi at coffee shops, restaurants and other public areas is a great convenience and is generally okay to browse the web, check news and weather, etc., it’s possible to compromise your personal and financial information to tech-savvy scammers by using these networks. Consider signing up for a virtual private network (VPN) if you travel extensively or use public Wi-Fi often. Warning signs to look for: 1) a public Wi-Fi network lets you log on without entering a password. 2) the network name is generic, such as “Free Public Wi-Fi.” 3) Payment is required to use the Wi-Fi, which may be a scammer trying to steal your credit card information.

3 – Do your research. When shopping on marketplace sites such as eBay, check the seller’s reputation and read comments and reviews before buying a product. Previous customers’ experiences can be a good indicator of how your shopping experience might be. When shopping on classifieds sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, be sure to meet in a public place (whether you’re buying or selling) and inspect the item thoroughly before handing over cash. Also, be wary of deals that seem too good to be true – they probably are.

4 – Always use strong passwords. As a general rule of thumb, a good password is at least seven characters long and will include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Never use the same passwords for all of your online shopping accounts – if one password is breached, scammers could have access to all of your accounts. We know it’s hard to remember a lot of passwords, which is why a password manager app is a great way to keep passwords secure and in one place, such as Last Pass, 1 Password, RoboForm, Dashlane, True Key, Keeper, Sticky Password, etc.

5 – Update your software. Whether you’re shopping on your laptop, smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, always keep the operating system up to date. Cybercriminals can exploit weaknesses they’ve uncovered in older software versions. Use a good software program to fight malware (malicious software) that also includes antivirus protection and a firewall.