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Tis the season of panic shopping.  It’s not quite “I’d better just buy an e-gift card” season yet, but almost.  So here’s a stand-alone set of tips for staying safe while online shopping.

1. Update your software first

If you’re human, you probably postpone critical software updates and security patches because they seem to arrive at inconvenient times. Now’s a good time to pause and make sure those antivirus definitions are up to date. You’re about to sling your credit card all over tarnation; put on a decent life jacket before you head out on the lake.

2. Two-factor authentication

Plenty of places that you shop frequently will ask you to register so you can check out more quickly. That’s fine, but of course it means a criminal can also check out more quickly with your credentials.  Two-factor authentication is a great tool to stop this. Most banks now offer it and some retailers are finally offering their own version.  Amazon.com just added it, for example (Wired explains how to use it here.)  Basically, it means you won’t be able to buy something at Amazon without taking a tiny extra confirmation step, usually via a cellphone text message or app.  It’s worth the small hassle.

amazon two step verification

3.  Use only one credit card

This is the one time of year than many people blow through the traditional “only shop at name-brand websites” advice.  Heck, if you want to make a bobblehead of your boyfriend, you want to make a bobblehead of your boyfriend. OK, the next best thing is to use only one of your various credit cards while online shopping. That will make it easier to spot fraud if (when!) if happens. And don’t forget: Fighting fraud is more about limiting the damage than prevention.

4. Research.  And coupons.

When you do use those smaller websites, always do a little research. It’s so easy.  Google “BobbleHeadsAreUS.RU” and “complaint.”  It’s amazing what you’ll find.  And while you’re at it, Google “BobbleHeadsAreUs.RU” and “coupon.”  I never buy anything without performing those two searches.

5. Enable text alerts.

Back to your credit card settings. I am a big fan of allowing your bank to text you every time there’s a transaction on your credit card. It’s a fantastic way to make sure everything’s legit.  Meanwhile, it’s also a great way to remind yourself how much you are overspending.  Getting too many text alerts? The solution ISN’T turning off the texts.

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