Those last-minute deals online are too good to pass up: 40% off and free, 2-day shipping? Quadruple rewards points? And no long lines at the mall?

Online shopping is a great way to snag great deals -- all from the comfort of your own home (and in your pjs with your favorite warm drink!). However, the like any transaction, there are security issues to keep in mind when buying online -- but by following a few basic guidelines, you can greatly minimize your risk!

1. Be careful with your personal info.

At checkout, you'll provide a lot of information: address, phone, credit cards -- so make sure you've read up on the merchant's policies!

Tip: Before giving personal data, read the site’s privacy policy. Many retailers let you elect to receive offers or have your info shared. But others make agreement automatic unless you take action, such as clearing checked boxes. So be observant. Limit the info you provide to what’s critical for completing the purchase -- you shouldn't be required to submit your social security number, for example!

2. Log out of your account after every purchase.

By the way -- don't save your passwords! Make sure you enter them every time to avoid someone else using your account.

3. Research your retailer.

Don't purchase from sketchy-looking websites or merchants.
Just because a website looks legitimate doesn’t mean it is. Some are scams set up to steal your identity, your credit-card information, or both. Others sell counterfeit goods. And still others engage in unethical practices, such as luring you in with low prices they honor only if you buy extra items, or quietly adding unexpected charges based on fine-print disclosures they know you won’t read.

Tip: Before shopping with an unfamiliar online retailer, look it up at the Better Business Bureau. Check its rating, look for complaints made against it, and confirm that it has an address. Also see what others are saying about the business by searching the Internet with the website name and such terms as “complaints” and “reviews.” This information is literally at your fingertips -- so use it to your advantage!

4. Avoid using public computers to make online purchases.

This probably seems obvious -- but also applies to purchases made in public, in general. Airports, libraries -- even the local Starbucks all carry increased risk for fraud. If you have to make a purchase when out and about, experts recommend turning on cellular data on your mobile device rather than using Wi-Fi.

5. When possible, use a credit card.

While it's certainly noble to use cash, skip the debit card, which typically don't offer as much buyer protection. Opt instead for PayPal, which draws from a checking account, but is a much more secure way to pay!

One final tip: shop around!

The beauty of online shopping is that you can easily research prices and sales with just a few clicks of the mouse -- so be sure you're getting the best deals!

Sources: 1. Consumer Reports,Avoid these pitfalls of online shopping| 2. CNET, How to shop online safely
Photo credits: 1. jenny.nash712, Day 8 - a bad habit | 2. GotCredit, Credit Cards| 3. Mike_fleming, Christmas Presents.
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