If you've browsed your local stores recently, you've probably seen all the Christmas decorations, expanding toy selection and scented pine cones. Christmas is coming, which means most of us will be gearing up to shop. The days of suffering through retail congestion are becoming a thing of the past, however: Forrester Research predicts U.S. online sales will increase 16% this holiday season. So, how do you join this online shopping movement and avoid the December crowds without compromising your security? Here are seven tips for shopping online safely this holiday season. (To learn more, check out the Top Holiday Spending Mistakes.)

IN PICTURES: 8 Easy Ways To Slash Your Holiday Budget

  1. Start With Antivirus Software
    If you don't have an antivirus program installed on your computer, that should be the place to start before you shop and give out valuable personal information like your credit card number. Internet safety in general begins at home, so make sure you protect yourself as you venture to websites and vendors. Several antivirus software packages are available, so check reviews. Your internet provider may have a discounted price as part of your service.

  2. Look For Security On The Vendor Website
    Did you find that deal you were looking for? Check to make sure that the vendor uses a secure site to document the sale. Here's one way you can tell: there should be a letter "s" behind the "http" in the web address, and a closed padlock icon to the right of the browser address. When you click to complete the order and enter your credit card information, those should be there - if not, browse away to a different merchant. (Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)

  3. Use A Filter
    One way to guarantee your safety online is to keep your browser updated to the latest version. This way, you'll have the latest technology when it comes to internet security. An updated browser will also keep phishing (those bad guys that try to get your data) filtered out of your computer, making sure you're safe on the web.

IN PICTURES: 5 "New" Rules For Safe Investing

  1. Check The Vendor's Privacy Policy
    What happens to your information once you enter it? How does the merchant safeguard your credit card and personal information? The vendor's safety and privacy policy should detail this; look for it and read it before completing a sale. Some vendors offer to create an account for you and save your credit card information for easy ordering. This is convenient, but it also makes shopping very easy - something you may want to avoid for security reasons, and to prevent the impulse buy.

  2. Check Reviews
    The great thing about the internet is the information available: you can check reviews by other customers and find out if this merchant is on the up-and-up. Does it deliver on time? Are products as advertised? Look for reviews that don't sound overly angry and aren't an isolated customer service-type misunderstanding. A dozen reviews should give you a good idea what to expect. Also look for seals of approval by agencies like The Better Business Bureau to confirm a vendor's reputation. If information is hard to find, consider taking your business elsewhere for safety's sake.

  3. Read Return Policies
    You've investigated the vendor and found your item of choice at a great price. Time to buy, right? Make sure you check return policies; since you're buying the item sight unseen, and it has to be transported, there's always that chance things don't work out. Make sure you know how this vendor takes returns, if at all.

  4. Keep Receipts
    Once you buy your item, you'll want to print out your receipt (the vendor will give you this option after the transaction goes through). This will give your sales confirmation - a good way to protect yourself in case the vendor tries to charge more, or something goes wrong with delivery. You'll receive this via email too, but print the receipt anyway, just to cover contingencies.

The Bottom Line
Are you ready to shop online? Some estimates have online sales in the U.S. reaching $52 billion. With these steps, you'll make sure that your information is secure when shopping online. Then your holiday season can be merry, bright and cyber safe. (For more, see Paying Online: A How-To Guide.)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: G20 Leader Spats And China Fakes It.

Related Articles
  1. Budgeting

    Bespoke Post Review: Is It Worth It?

    Find out if Bespoke Post, the fast-growing, e-commerce subscription service for men's lifestyle and grooming products, is worth all of the hype in this review.
  2. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Costco Stock (COST)

    Read about some of the biggest risks of investing in Costco stock. Gain a better understanding of its business model before buying in.
  3. Stock Analysis

    3 Predictions for Amazon in 2016 (AMZN)

    Learn the top three predictions for Amazon in 2016 as the company comes off an exceptional year in terms of revenue and expands into new markets.
  4. Stock Analysis

    5 Reasons Alibaba's Earnings Disappointed in 2015 (BABA)

    Look at the reasons why Alibaba's earnings disappointed in 2015, including weak economic growth, the soft renminbi and allegations of counterfeit products.
  5. Investing

    Seven Sustainable Retail Dividends

    Seven retailers which pat sustainable dividends when examining both the companies' payout ratios and free cash flows.
  6. Budgeting

    Craft Coffee Review: Is It Worth It?

    Learn more about one of the first and most flexible specialty-grade coffee subscription services on the market, a perfect fit for any coffee lover.
  7. Stock Analysis

    The Top 5 Retail Penny Stocks for 2016 (TWMC, DXLG)

    Find out which retail stocks trade for less than $5 a share. Learn about bargains that can avoid bankruptcy and produce nice returns for investors.
  8. Stock Analysis

    Wal-Mart's 3 Most Profitable Lines of Business (WMT)

    Learn about the key drivers of Wal-Mart's profitability as the company is concluding its fourth quarter, which is the period of its highest sales and income.
  9. Investing Basics

    4 Value Plays in the Retail Sector for H1 2016 (BBBY, WMT)

    Discover four value stocks of companies operating in the retail sector that can prove valuable investments for the second half of 2016 and beyond.
  10. Stock Analysis

    The Top 5 Micro Cap Retail Stocks for 2016 (KIRK,TCS)

    Identify five promising micro-cap retail stocks that all growth investors should have their eyes on when making portfolio decisions for 2016.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Does QVC accept debit cards?

    QVC accepts debit card payments as one of its many payment options. The company, which is the world’s leading video and e-commerce ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does QVC charge sales tax?

    QVC, an American TV network, is registered with states to collect sales or use tax on taxable items. QVC is also required ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can you pay off a Walmart credit card in store? (WMT)

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) allows multiple payment options for its credit cards, including in-store payments. The ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does Walmart take international credit cards?

    Foreign visitors to Walmart locations in the United States can use their credit cards issued by banks outside of the U.S. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Is QVC publicly traded? (QVCA, QVCB)

    QVC, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corporation. It is attributed to the QVC Group tracking stock, ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)? (AMZN, W)

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  2. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  3. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
  4. Dark Pool Liquidity

    The trading volume created by institutional orders that are unavailable to the public. The bulk of dark pool liquidity is ...
  5. Godfather Offer

    An irrefutable takeover offer made to a target company by an acquiring company. Typically, the acquisition price's premium ...
Trading Center