At this time of year, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of some basic security precautions for online shopping and purchases. As more of us take to the Internet to buy gifts for our loved ones, cyber predators gear up to find ways to take your money. Following a few steps, can help keep you safe.

1) Use a secure connection

Making purchases from your local hangout may seem cozy and relaxing, but you are leaving yourself wide open to attacks. With a little software and knowledge, the guy at the next table or across the room, can not only access your computer, but he can also steal your passwords and credit card information as you send it across the network. Do it from home and make sure your connection has some encryption enabled.

2) Update your browser and computer

Be sure your browser software (ie. Internet Explorer, or Firefox) is up to date. Security holes in these programs and others can leave you vulnerable to attack.

3) HTTPS Is your friend

Before you send any passwords, credit card information or other personal data, ALWAYS make sure that the site you are using has an encrypted connection. This will be evidenced by the URL (uniform resource locator) in your browsers address bar. If it does not have the “s” on the end of the “http” then the information you pass from your computer to their server is not safe.

4) Never click on links in an email

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and people still fall for it. If you want to visit a site linked in an email look at the link closely and copy it and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Just because a link “says” one thing, it does not mean that is where it will send you when you click on it.

5) Be Cautious

I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but a little bit of caution and common sense can go a long way toward keeping your online life secure. Always remember that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, check out sites that you have never heard of with the BBB or other reliable sources. Cyber criminals know how to build web sites that look quite nice. That does not mean they are safe.

I hope that these tips will help keep you safer online. It is also my hope that you have a wonderful Christmas season and take time to enjoy the time with family and friends as we celebrate the birth of a Savior.