If you've browsed your local stores recently, you've probably seen all of the seasonal decorations, expanding toy selection, and scented pine cones. The holidays are coming, which means that many of us will be gearing up for some serious shopping. Fortunately, the days of suffering through retail congestion are a thing of the past for many because a growing percentage of holiday sales happen online.

So how do you avoid the holiday crowds without compromising your cybersecurity? Here are seven tips for shopping online safely this holiday season.

1. Start with antivirus software

If you don't have an antivirus program installed on your computer, that is the place to start before you shop and give out sensitive personal information like your credit card number. Internet safety begins at home, so make sure you protect yourself. Several antivirus software packages are available, so check reviews. Your Internet provider may offer a discounted price as part of your service.

Key Takeaways

  • It's the holidays and time for some serious shopping.
  • With a greater percentage of sales taking place online, cybersecurity is an essential consideration.
  • Keeping your antivirus software and browser updated can help mitigate some online security risks.
  • Know the company's return policy before purchasing because goods sometimes need to be returned if damaged in transit.
  • Take care that your personal information is secure when shopping online.

2. Look for security on the vendor website

Did you find that deal you were looking for? Check to make sure the vendor uses a secure site to process the sale. Here's one way you can tell: There should be a letter "s" after the "http" in the web address and you should also see a closed padlock icon to the left of the browser address. If you don't see these, it is best to try a different merchant.

3. Update your browser

Be sure to update your browser to the latest version. This way, you'll have the latest security patches, which will close some of the loopholes that hackers and phishers look to exploit.

4. Check the vendor's privacy policy

What happens to your information once you enter it? How does the merchant safeguard your credit card and other personal information? The vendor's 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's something you might want to avoid for security reasons—and to help prevent those impulse buys.

5. Check reviews

One of the best things about the Internet is the wealth of the information available. For example, you can check customer reviews to find out if a merchant is on the up-and-up. Does the company deliver on time? Are products as advertised?

Look for reviews that don't sound overly angry and aren't an isolated customer service misunderstanding. A dozen or so reviews should give you a good idea of 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.

6. 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 a chance things don't work out. Make sure you know how the vendor handles returns, if at all.

7. Keep receipts

Any reputable vendor will email you a sales confirmation after your purchase. Don't delete these emails until the item has arrived and you know that you are absolutely satisfied. While the vendor should have any sales data on their end, the receipt has information that you want to be armed with should you need to call customer service or return a purchase.

The Bottom Line

Take precautions to make sure your personal information is secure when shopping online. Then your holiday season can be merry, bright, and safe from cyber crooks.