Protect yourself while shopping online this holiday season

Now that Thanksgiving is over, millions of shoppers around the country are approaching the holiday shopping season in full force. Retailers are introducing numerous promotions expected to attract shoppers, even if some uncertainty still exists regarding the economy.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average spending amount per person is expected to be around $805.65 this season, compared to $802.45 in 2014. Across the board, the NRF projects people spending more on family members, co-workers, friends and themselves.

One interesting prediction also reveals how shopping trends have changed because of the Internet and smartphones. The NRF surveyed individuals and found approximately 46 percent of them will conduct shopping online, up from 44 percent one year ago. Furthermore, 21 percent of smartphone owners stated they plan to use their device to make purchases, the highest that number has been since it first started to be tracked in 2011.

The embrace of online shopping provides many perks for individuals and families. That being said, shoppers are still at risk from online threats. Luckily a few methods exist to help everyone stay safe from online attacks this holiday season.

Woman shopping online.

Follow some steps to safe while shopping online

Are you on the right website?
Numerous clones of popular websites exist that trick Internet users into thinking they're on the correct webpage. Often times, users stumble on these websites by mistake due to a misspelling or other small error. As such, there are are a few signs to check for to ensure your safety, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The first place to check, whether on a computer or mobile device, is the address bar. Ensure the Web address starts with "https:". According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this is a method developers use to enhance security on the world's leading Internet browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Explorer.

When visiting an online retailer, the next sign to ensure safety is a lock symbol on the left of the URL. The lock confirms you are indeed visiting a real website and it is secure.

Shop at home
One of the perks of online shopping is the ability to shop for anything just about anywhere. That being said, you'll want to make online purchases from the comfort of your house for safety purposes instead of a public area, like a coffee shop, despite their increasing security in recent years.

Public Wi-Fi networks are available to any person, including criminals. Only enter banking information when at home because only you know that password. If shopping on your phone, the National Cyber Security Alliance said it is better to do so over a 3G or 4G connection than to do so over an unsecured network.

Embrace safe payments
During this time of the year, credit and debit cards are generally the safest payment methods. Many providers offer benefits that to both forms of payment, such as fraud protection. If you buy items from a compromised website, or the card has been stolen, the provider will generally offer you full protection from fraudulent charges, provided you act within a period of 90 days, according to U.S. New & World Report.

"Credit cards are generally the safest payment method."

If you're hesitant about pulling your wallet or purse out while in a crowded shopping mall, consider using a mobile payment service like Apple Pay or Android Pay. These are essentially virtual versions of your credit card stored on your phone, but only you can authorize payments from the fingerprint scanner. These are safe options, because in the official description for Apple Pay, the company stated your credit card number is never actually sent to the merchant. Instead, a transaction-specific security code ensures the transaction goes through.

Take a close look at records
Examine your monthly financial statements extra carefully during the holiday season. During this time, you should consider looking over your account's statements. Look over every purchase, no matter the amount. Thieves will sometimes steal small amounts of money over a long period of time before the fraud charges are noticed.

Holiday shopping is fun for many, but above all, everyone has to remain safe when shopping online.

For more information about smart ways to manage your finances, contact Landmark Bank.

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