Shopping online safely this holiday season

Some internet providers offer free anti-virus software, like Comcast or AT&T

A recent Pew Research Center survey says 37 percent of social media users are worn out by the political talk they see online -- almost double the amount of people who say they enjoy it.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Americans are expected to spend close to $75 billion shopping online this holiday weekend. Online shopping requires some of your personal financial information and you could be putting yourself at risk without even knowing it.

When you go online to shop either from your laptop or smartphone, there are precautions you can take to make sure the transactions are safe. The first thing, before you do anything online, is to make sure you have anti-virus software installed and that it’s up to date.

Sword & Shield security consultant Joe Gray says anti-virus software is mandatory and doesn’t cost a lot.

“Sometimes you can get it free from your internet service provider, such as Comcast offers Symantec and Norton, AT&T offers McAfee, and Sophos has a free home version as does Avast.”

Gray also says once anti-virus software is installed, you want it updated.

“To my knowledge there are few or none that do continuous updates, but you can set the interval to whatever depending on the actual software,” he said.

There’s always free WiFi when you go to a coffee shop, restaurant or hotel, but you should beware of hackers.

“The malicious actor could be there during business hours sitting in the parking lot. If they have the correct equipment, they could be a mile away,” Gray said. “Generally, speaking, if you can avoid [public WiFi], don’t connect to it.”

This holiday, when possible, pay with a credit card. These transactions are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act while your creditor investigates the disputed charges.

“If you are compromised, depending on your bank’s policy you are only liable, in some cases, $0, other’s $50, sometimes $500. It’s a level of protection that you have,” Gray said.

If your password is based on personal information, like your favorite football team that happens to dress in orange, that could be easily guessed. Also don’t use as your password the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6 or 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, or the word “password.” They are the most commonly used passwords. It’s best to use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.

“Take the right precautions and remain vigilant. Stay alert. If it doesn’t make sense, then step away from it,” said Gray.

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