Billions of dollars are flowing in and out of stores this holiday season, much of it online.  Shopping from your recliner is pretty easy, but you should also be aware that there are always people waiting for you to drop your defenses and steal your identity.

Here are some best practices to use while shopping online:

Protect Your Passwords . . . . from EVERYONE:

As sad as it is, most identity theft is done by family and friends you would never suspect.  Make sure your passwords for shopping are unique and are secret.  Sure, you can tell your wife . . . but not the kids, not your friends, not her sister or anyone else.  Keep your passwords safe and secure and you'll eliminate the most common ways people's identities are stolen.

Don't Trust Your Email:

Email is awesome for information, but it can also be the first step to your stolen identity.  Make sure if you see a great sale offered in email, that you don't click through the links (unless you are sure beyond doubt that the email is real).  Visit the website directly and find the items you want.  Criminals are tech-savvy, too and have been known to reproduce websites to steal your information.  Make sure you're smarter than they are!

Confirm the Site’s Security:

There are two ways to verify a website’s security. First, examine the URL in the address bar of your browser. If it starts with https://, the site is designed to withstand third-party attacks. An address beginning with http:// may be perfectly legitimate, but it isn’t secure. Another security indicator is an icon that looks like a lock, which would appear in the bottom corner of your Web browser. This universal symbol informs shoppers the site is safe. If you can’t find either marker, your Web browser may be doing the verification work for you. Online browsers such as Firefox will now warn you before making a purchase from an unsecured or untrusted site.

Say “No” to Storing Information:

Decline vendor offers to keep your credit card information stored in their system. It may save time, but it’s risky in the long run. Data breaches are common, even among the largest retailers. Stored information could compromise your identity in such a breach.

Remember to take security measures offline too, when shopping at the local mall or retail store. Always be aware of your wallet or purse, be cautious entering your PIN at the ATM and cash register, and leave your Social Security card at home.