There’s a growing sentiment among consumers that the madhouse of Black Friday shopping doesn’t compare to the deals to be had—from the comfort of their own homes—on the following Monday. Dubbed Cyber Monday in response to retailers who offered tremendous savings to online shoppers after that first holiday rush was over, it’s a lower key event that still offers huge deals to shoppers and bottom line benefits to retailers. Best of all, it doesn’t require waiting in line in the cold!

But now that the public and the cybersecurity industry are painfully aware of the damage a hacker can do during the busy holiday shopping season after last year’s Target breach, how do you safeguard your personal data from a cyber thief and still manage to get all the items on your list? By being smart about how and where you shop.

The very first thing any internet user needs to do, whether shopping or not, is make sure to have high-quality, up-to-date anti-virus software installed. If you plan to do any online shopping next week, now is the time to invest in some software (typically between $20 and $40) and install it to make sure there are no known threats already in place in your computer.

Once your computer is secure, you must make sure your network is secure by password protecting it. This will help prevent a hacker from accessing your wifi and potentially uncovering your personal information. A strong password on your home network is an especially important step before you enter your credit card information on retailers’ websites.

Speaking of websites, before you do business with any online vendors, look for the security information. In the address bar (where the name of the website is located at the top of your screen, followed by “.com”), make sure you see the letters, “https:” to indicate that it’s a secure site. You might also see a little padlock symbol in the same line, which also tells you it’s secure.

If you’re using a site that you’re unsure of, consider using an alternate form of payment that protects you a little more. An online payment service like PayPal has strong safeguards in place, and can serve as a go-between for you and the retailer; you can even use your regular credit card as your payment method within PayPal. At the same time, you can also feel a little more secure by using a prepaid debit card for all your online shopping, but keep in mind that there are small transaction fees—usually around a dollar per transaction—associated with using them.

In order to shop on any retailer’s website, you’ll most likely be required to create an account (although some let you register as a guest). If you do establish an account, it’s important to choose a strong password that has a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and don’t forget to throw in a mixture of upper and lower case. More important, though, is the need to make unique passwords, meaning you don’t use the same password for multiple websites.

Finally, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to be proactive about protecting your accounts and identity. Check your credit reports and your account activity routinely during the coming weeks to make sure there is no unauthorized activity, and remember to alert the police if you have reason to believe that your identity has been compromised. It’s important to let law enforcement know about threats as they occur, and banks or insurance companies can require a police report before agreeing that you’re not responsible for any fraudulent charges.

 

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