I’m a shopper; it’s one of my hobbies. I don’t always buy, but shopping has almost been elevated to a competitive sport with the access and apps available online. I’m certainly not alone. Almost 200 million people will shop or buy online this year*, representing billions of dollars in purchases. Unfortunately, along with worrying whether the size or color is right or if all the parts are included for assembly, the security of the device you’re using and the channel your financial data is traversing should be at the top of your list. What do I mean by that?

While many have already ceded access to their personal data via social media, the objective here is maximizing your transaction security.

You’ve heard this many times, but before entrusting your personal and financial data to an online store to make a purchase, make sure the operating system and application software you’re using are up to date. Also keep your antivirus software and antispyware current (you can arrange for that to be automatic), and most importantly, allow them to run. It’s like that alarm system you had installed but don’t always use. It makes you feel better that it’s there, but it’s useless if it isn’t engaged.

I know—I get it. Letting a site “remember you,” particularly if you commonly shop there, is convenient. Seriously consider shopping as a “guest” at every site you can, to reduce your financial and security digital footprint at that site. It takes 15 seconds to enter your personal information for a transaction, so don’t make it easy for cybercriminals to harvest your data.

Shop at reputable sites and check for the “https,” which realistically translates to “the data I enter on this site will be encrypted.” Watch for popups, and don’t click on them. If you do, you may just help the cybercriminal deliver malware to your device.

Stay off public wireless networks and public computers (such as hotel computers and publicly available networks) if you’re making a financial transaction, including a retail purchase. Those networks and devices can and do harbor malicious software designed to grab your credit card and personal information. Save the gifts for family, not cyberthieves.

What else should you practice? Using strong passwords, paying with credit rather than debit cards, and being suspicious of all offers presented to you online. The attractiveness of these online offers has always puzzled me. A good test for this is if a stranger knocked on your door with the same pitch, what would you think? Too good to be true? It probably is, and you should pass it by.

I could go on, but the message here is that you have tools to protect yourself, and you should use them— whether it’s when shopping online or logging onto your account on vanguard.com. Be wary, knowing that nothing is foolproof, but you can encourage cybercriminals to go on to the next likely target. We have additional tips on how to protect yourself on our Security Center.

My next blog will concentrate on some of the new and emerging authentication methods that may help stem the avalanche of cybercrime.