“Know what to look for:” Steps to protect yourself while shopping online for the holidays

MILWAUKEE -- The holiday shopping season is here, but a lot of people won't be going to the stores. Instead, they'll be shopping on their laptop or cellphone and that raises some big security concerns.

It's the busiest time of the year for shoppers and stores. It's also the busiest time for cyber criminals who know many people will be buying gifts online.

"It's important for all of us to be prepared as well," said Christopher Miller, IRS.

The IRS -- along with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), AARP, police and tax agency professionals -- are urging shoppers and taxpayers to be vigilant.

"Know what to look for when it comes to cyber crime and protect your personal and business information," said Miller.

One tip to protecting your identity while shopping online this holiday season, or to protecting your tax returns, is to avoid using any unprotected, public Wi-Fi to any financial transactions.

Christopher Miller, IRS

"When accessing the internet through public Wi-Fi, your online information is visible to hackers," said Jeannie Tucker, AARP Wisconsin.

Also:

  • Shop at familiar online retailers and look for the "lock" icon in the browser's URL bar
  • Use passwords that are strong, long and unique
  • Make sure your computer's security software is up to date

"Make sure it has firewall and anti virus protections and that automatic updates are enabled," Tucker said.

If you're donating to a charity online, stick to ones that are familiar to you.

"To check out whether or not a charity is legitimate, check out give.org or the IRS website," said Lisa Schiller, BBB.

Shoppers should also be on the lookout for phishing emails that entice you to open a link, then steal your personal information.

"Learn to recognize and avoid scams including emails, phone calls and text messages from thieves posing as legitimate organizations posing as bank, credit card company or even the IRS," said Tucker.

These are all steps that could keep you safe shopping while criminals shop for your personal information.