How to be safe while holiday shopping

Cary Stephen Johnson
Posted 11/9/21

We’re all still living with a lot of craziness with ongoing COVID concerns and now supply chain issues forewarning of possible shortages in retail stores. With concerns about that ‘bike for …

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How to be safe while holiday shopping


We’re all still living with a lot of craziness with ongoing COVID concerns and now supply chain issues forewarning of possible shortages in retail stores.

With concerns about that ‘bike for Billy’ never making it to a retail store, many of you may join the online shopping experience that resulted in 2 billion goods and services purchased via computers in 2020. There are some real benefits to using your computer — you can shop anytime (even in your pajamas); you can find and compare products quickly and save the time of running out to a retail store; you might find better product selection and, if you order soon, you may avoid that “out of stock” concern. Additionally you might be part of the 44% of Americans who use a browser extension, such as Honey or Pricescout, to get coupons and product comparisons.

By avoiding physical retail stores you also avoid ID thieves who are so prevalent during the holidays, cruising the parking lots and malls looking for an opportunity to steal personal and financial information.

But the online shopper still needs to raise the antenna looking for concerns, because they do exist. Before you enter the fray of online activity, you might want to do an internal scan of your computer to make sure it isn’t infected with malicious software. The free tool at is good. Also make sure your firewall and other protective software are clicked on and up to date. Make sure you don’t have two firewalls turned on because they have a tendency to work against one another — they don’t provide double protection! You might also want to think about installing VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your computer. It adds multiple safety features that will make your internet experience more private, and it will keep your information more secure from those who like to peek at what you’re doing. If you have a newer version of McAfee as your firewall, it already includes VPN. For a better understanding, go to Wikipedia and read the article on VPN.

A big problem in today’s internet world is inadequate passwords. Most email hacks that come my way are the result of an inadequate password. The FBI suggests that an unhackable password must be comprised of 15 letters, numbers, and symbols. My problem is I can’t remember 15 characters. You might want to consider a password manager program.

Additionally, for sites where you already have an established account — your bank, a retail merchant, or iTunes — you might consider seeing if you can add “two-step verification.” This means when you enter your password, you still cannot access your account until you provide an additional piece of information. That could be a security question (the name of your first dog) or it could be a code sent to your smart phone that needs to be entered before access is granted.

Search engines are the mechanism on your computer that connect to the internet looking for information that you have typed into a search. If you want to find out about the best cranberry salad, your search engines goes all over the internet and brings all that information back to your computer so you can say, “I had no idea there was that much information about cranberry salad!” Most people, 90% in fact, use Google as their default search engine for finding information. You might think about a different search engine — DuckDuckGo — because it hides your internet identity, encrypts all your activity (as does VPN), and allows you to avoid website pop-ups where crooks might be posting a fake website meant to steal your information. It’s a free download — you’ll need to use the Google search engine to get it.

Finally, be careful of websites you’ve never seen or visited before. You might do a search for “children’s bicycles” and multiple sites will appear. Some may look pretty inviting because they offer a really good deal. Some may be fake websites set up by scammers who are trying to capture your credit card or other financial information. I prefer to use websites for retail stores that have a real world, brick-and-mortar presence — places like Michaels, Macy’s, Best Buy, Target — you get the picture. Then if I have a problem with my internet order, I can go to a real store, talk with a real person, and get the help I need with my order. Perhaps the biggest exception to this rule is shopping from Amazon. If you want to check out a website to see if it’s safe and reliable, type the name of the website + scam (Kohls + scam) and read the reports. Or go to global.sitesafety. and type in the name of the website. This site will tell you if there have been complaints and whether it is a new website.

Okay … that’s a lot. But better be safe than sorry. Take the time for some basic safety and then enjoy your online holiday shopping.

The First Judicial District puts out monthly crime prevention tips. For more information and upcoming public events go to


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