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Shop safe online this season

By Janna Herron · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Posted: 1 pm ET

Cyber Monday proved that more Americans are doing their shopping online. And that means there are more opportunities for thieves to snatch your credit card information from the Internet ether.

Online sales on Monday leapt 33 percent in the U.S., compared with the same period last year, according to an IBM report released Tuesday. Consumers spent an average of $198.26 this year, up 2.6 percent from $193.24 in 2010.

More Americans shopped by cell phone: Nearly 7 percent of sales on Cyber Monday came from a mobile device, compared with just over 2 percent last year.

"Consumers who choose to benefit from the convenience of shopping from a smartphone or laptop can improve their online safety exponentially by adopting safe computing practices," says Paul Smocer, president of BITS, the technology policy division of The Financial Services Roundtable.

Smocer recommends that consumers double-check the website before typing in their credit card information for a purchase. Two red flags: websites advertising deals that are too good to be true or featuring web addresses with "http://" versus "https://" or "shttp://."

Make sure to type in the website you want to visit instead of following a link, suggests William Noon, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service's criminal investigative division. Often, hackers will set up websites that mirror legitimate retailer sites to snag your credit card information. If the retailer is new to you, be extra cautious, he says.

"Do research on that site if it's an unfamiliar vendor," he says. "Check comments on other sites about it. To be safest, use established vendors and sites."

Other rules of thumb this holiday season include never email your credit card or other financial information and never open odd-looking link, says Smocer. (Here are other ways crooks snatch your financial goods.)

To stay one step ahead, always monitor credit card and bank accounts for unusual activity and set up automatic alerts on your credit cards if your issuer offers them. If you find that your credit card information has been compromised, contact your local law enforcement, your issuer and the three credit-reporting agencies.

Have you had your credit card information hacked during the holidays? Tell me your story.

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron

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