Ahead of the yearly Christmas shopping spree, one of the FBI's regional offices has published yesterday a series of security tips to help users stay safe while they shop online.
The security tips, part of the bureau's weekly tech advice column, deal with everything from keeping devices up-to-date to avoiding online scams.
While the Bureau's advice is geared toward the upcoming holiday season, some of the tips can -- and should -- be applied at any given time throughout the year:
Don't go online until you make sure that your computer and your phone are fully up to date. This will make you susceptible to viruses and malware.
Don't use public WiFi. If you log on to unsecured wireless networks, you can put your private information out there for any grinch to steal.
Watch out for the telltale signs of a possible fraud. Did you find the perfect whatnot for a friend of family member but the seller requires that you pay using a gift card or wire transfer? That's a potential fraud indicator.
If you are thinking of buying tickets to a concert or sporting event, make sure you stick with a reputable seller. You might find websites or online marketplaces where people offer excellent tickets that are cheap, but know that plenty of counterfeiters may be ready to cash in on Christmas at your expense.
Beware of non-delivery scams. Have a hot toy or blingy bauble sold out everywhere you look? You think you've hit the jackpot when you find it on a never-heard-of-before website and, as a bonus, it's cheaper than expected! Sounds great, but be warned: if you stumbled upon a scammer trying to take advantage of your desperation, the only thing that is likely to show up in the mail is a bill.
Pay with a credit card when possible. You will likely have more protections than paying with your debit card or cash.
Buy digital gift cards directly from verified online merchants. Watch out for sellers who say they can get you cards below market value. Also, be wary of buying any card in a store if it looks like the security PIN on the back has been uncovered and re-covered.
Change your passwords. Yes, they can be difficult to remember, and no, they shouldn't all be the same. Make sure you use long and unique passwords for the most important sites - like your email and bank accounts - and update others to stronger options frequently.
Be certain that any charitable donations you make are going to legitimate non-profits by doing some basic research. Also, keep an eye on how much of your donation goes directly to services and how much of it is gobbled up by admin and overhead costs.
Don't let stress drive you into making poor choices. Fraudsters love using social engineering techniques to trick you into making quick decisions you wouldn't otherwise pursue. As the saying goes, if the deal sounds too good to be real, it likely is.
Beware of unsolicited emails, texts, or social media posts that promise you the chance to purchase that final needed gift. Don't click on these links or attachments, no matter how much you want to be done with holiday shopping madness.
Spend a few minutes checking your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions. If there's anything suspicious, make sure you report it right away.
The FBI has said numerous times in the past that most Americans fail to report cyber-related crimes, which makes it harder for its agents to understand trends and prioritize resources towards today's biggest threats.