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Amazingly, in today's topsy-turvy world, because of vulnerabilities in the processing of credit and debit cards used at retail stores and the hackers who are focusing on those vulnerabilities, right now shopping online can actually be safer than swiping your card at a local store. For safety sake, however, there are a few online shopping rules that you should follow.

1. The first of these is to always have a good antivirus program installed on your computer and to update your antivirus program and other software like the operating system whenever an update is available. When in doubt, don't click on links. This is especially true of email where phishing schemes are prevalent, but you should also be careful when you are surfing the Web or visiting social media websites.

2. Shop at trusted, established websites. Don't use any sites that you've never heard of. If you want to try a new website, check to see if any friends or acquaintances have used it successfully.

3. Pay only through secure sites. Typically the address in your browser will change from "http:" to "https:" during a secure connection.

4. Never email your credit card number, social security number, or personal information to anyone. No reputable seller will request it by email since email is not secure.

5. Do your banking and shopping from home where you are on your own secure network. Wi-Fi hotspots at local coffee shops and other establishments usually do not offer enough protection unless the user takes some added precautions, which can be cumbersome for the average user.

6. Create strong passwords consisting of numbers, letters, and symbols. Do not use words or names. Make the password for each banking and shopping site unique. Keep your passwords private.

7. Credit cards are generally the safest option for shopping online. When using a credit card, you have limited liability and the ability to have the credit card company intervene if something goes awry. Debit cards can also be a good choice as long as you have investigated their liability limits, which may be higher than those of credit cards.

8. Keep a paper trail. Let's face it, none of us have perfect memories. Print and save records of your online transactions, including the name of the seller, product description, price, and date of purchase. Most reputable merchants allow you to print a receipt after the transaction is complete. You can use these printed receipts to compare to your bank and credit card statements.

9. Monitor your bank accounts and credit card purchases regularly. Report any discrepancies or unusual charges to your financial institution immediately.

10. Your social security number is the key to your identity. Be miserly about sharing it with anyone, especially online. No reputable merchant will ever ask for your social security number to make a purchase.

Credit card theft is pretty easy to get through. Usually you notify your financial institution and they issue you a new card. Identity theft is much more difficult to handle because a thief can open lines of credit in your name, buy a car, and obtain new credit cards. In order to steal your identity, the thieve needs personal information like social security number, address, phone number and financial information. So be careful when giving out any such information.

Many financial experts say that having your bills sent to you electronically and paying them electronically is safer than sending and receiving them by mail. They also recommend shredding paper documents with personal information. So whether you use a credit card at a physical store, you shop and pay bills online online, or you pay bills by mail, the key word is "caution". Our mothers taught us to watch our wallets and keep the doors closed. Now we have a lot more convenience, and also a lot more to watch out for.