In 2000, I opened an email that proclaimed “ILoveYou” – and ended up sending a computer worm to every contact in my email address book. Not only was I disappointed to find out that Dave from Accounting did not actually love me, but it’s made me wary of everything I do online every day. The internet can be a scary place. With every email I open and link I click, I have to worry about malware being installed on my computer or cyber criminals just waiting to scam me. I think most of us know by now not to respond to emails requesting help transferring money to anyone from Nigeria, but scammers are getting more sophisticated.  With more of us online during the holiday shopping season, I thought it would be a good idea to review some ways to stay safe online so I headed over to McAfee to get some tips:

Practice Safe Shopping

Fake e-commerce sites often lure buyers with great deals on the most popular holiday gifts.  Shoppers should look at the specific email address and domain name of the sites they are pointed to, making sure it’s really from the retailer and not a close derivative.  The savvy consumer should check the site links (privacy policy, about us, return policy, etc.) and also check for the site name plus ‘scam’ to see if other consumers have reported issues.

To help you shop safely online, take the following common sense steps:

  • Stick to reputable e-commerce sites and look for a trustmark that indicates that the site has been verified as safe by a trusted third-party.
  • Don’t rely on a professional looking website as proof of quality or good reputation.
  • Investigate a company or seller before you buy.
  • Find out what the company’s physical address is to avoid overseas scams.
  • Never give out your personal bank account, credit card number personal information unless you are certain a company is legitimate.
  • Pay for your purchases by credit card which are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
  • Read the fine print about a company’s return and refund policy before purchasing.
  • Always use a secure internet browser. Look for a lock symbol and “https” at the beginning of the web address (as opposed to just “http”) to see if the site uses encryption to protect your data.

Beware of Shipping Notification Shams

Many of us send and receive a lot of packages during the holidays and keeping track of them all can be confusing. Phony shipping notifications can appear to be from a mailing service alerting you to an update on your shipment, when in reality, they are scams carrying malware and other harmful software designed to infect your computer or device. If there is no personalization in the notification, if it lacks detail, or if you need to click an attachment – it’s fake. Junk it.

Be Careful When Clicking

Don’t click on any links in emails or text messages from people you don’t know, and if you come across a shortened URL, use a URL expander, such as LongURL, to see where the link is directed to before you click.

Research Your Apps

Only download apps from official app stores and make sure to read other users’ comments and reviews before you download.

Do a Background Check on Charities

If you’re thinking about giving to a charity, do your research to avoid scammers who are trying to take advantage of your generosity. There are viral outreaches all over social media nowadays so it’s important to investigate the charity on a site like Charity Navigator to confirm it’s legit before opening your wallet.

Secure All Your Devices

Invest in software that can help protect your PC, Mac, smartphone, and tablet against viruses, malware, hackers, and thieves.

Stay Suspicious

It may be the season of good will but always be wary of any offer that sounds too-good-to-be true.