Going on a Cyberspree? Stay Secure While Shopping Online

E RADAR's John Brook looks at how to protect yourself from cyber criminals when shopping online...

Soon we won't have to leave the house for anything. Whether you need clothes or cars, you can buy it online with a credit card and a few clicks of the mouse.

Not all online stores are created equal, however. Let sensitive information fall into the wrong hands and you'll witness the dark side of the Internet (well, one of them, anyway).

The 2012 Norton Cybercrime Report revealed that 1.5 million people (in the 24 countries surveyed) become victims of cybercrime every day.

Some Web store operators are out to steal credit card numbers, while others don't have the necessary security to protect your information when you're on their site. As you surf for deals online, keep these security tips in mind before you hand over your credit card digits.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

shopping online, online securityCoffee shops, book stores and other businesses offer public Wi-Fi as a convenient service to their guests. They sacrifice security in order to provide broad access, however. Lax security opens the door for hackers to pouch sensitive information. Norton Internet safety advocate Marian Merrit warns consumers about shopping from public Wi-Fi hot spots. "These hotspots can be virtual playgrounds for cyber criminals," Merrit told Foxbusiness.com. Stick to a personal VPN (virtual private network) when shopping online. You'll benefit from upgraded security and hackers usually won't be lurking.

HTTP'S' (For Secure)

Consumers can protect themselves on the front end of the transaction, but it's up to online vendors to secure things on the back end. One way to tell whether an online store is secure is by looking at its application protocol, the acronym at the beginning of the URL. HTTPS and HTTP are the most common application protocols, and in this case, the "S" stands for secure. HTTPS adds layers to a HTTP application protocol, rendering it more secure and less vulnerable to cyberattacks. Beware of buying from sites with an HTTP application protocol. Look for the "S" and you'll reduce the risk.

Say No to Hyperlinks

Email marketing is big business. Salesforce.com reports that 44 percent of email recipients made at least one purchase based on a promotional email in 2012. Each day, vendors get better at targeting email recipients and attaching relevant products.

And that's the problem. Email marketing is so effective that cybercriminals have come from the hills. Recipients receive a professional-looking email promoting a relevant product. The attached link takes users to an equally professional landing page, where they hand over their credit card information to a provider that has no intention of shipping a product. As it stands, it's too dangerous to follow any email marketing link.

If you like what you see in an email, go straight to the company website to make sure it's legitimate. If you're still not sure, look for a contact phone number and talk to a real person. Legitimate businesses will be able to conduct sales over the phone. If you're looking to bundle TV with Internet and phone service, for example, a representative should be able to walk you through the sign-up and installation process. Any landing page that doesn't have this layer of transparency doesn't deserve your trust. Use common sense and tread carefully if things feel fishy.