Posted by Jacqueline Beauchere
Director, Trustworthy Computing Communications, Microsoft

It’s no secret more and more consumers are turning to the Internet to find those perfect holiday gifts. For most, the hustle and bustle of this time of year only makes online shopping even more attractive.  According to a recent comScore report, Cyber Monday 2012 marked the heaviest online spending day in history, with Internet sales totaling $1.465 billion, up 17 percent from 2011. In addition, it was the second day this season (the first being Black Friday) where sales surpassed $1 billion.

Perhaps some of the gifts being purchased include the latest Internet-enabled gadgets like the new Microsoft Surface, a Windows Phone 8 device or a Kinect for Xbox 360? No matter what you may be buying for family and friends this season, it's important to remember to exercise the safest habits and practices when shopping online – in December and throughout the year. For instance, always do business online with reputable stores and sellers, and give only to legitimate charities. While most popular online merchants offer safer and more secure ways to make online purchases, it’s best to think like a “Grinch” and beware of offers that seem too good to be true. Evaluate businesses by consulting sites such as www.Epinions.com and www.BizRate.com, and check the genuineness of charities at www.charitynavigator.org. Review buyer feedback about auction sellers, which can be a key indicator of reliability.

To further avoid getting “Grinch-ed,” consider these important tips:

  • Read the site’s privacy policy to see if it resells your information.
  • Check the terms of the sale, such as shipping and handling fees, warranties, delivery dates, and refund and return policies. (Only use sites that give full refunds.)
  • Give only enough information to make the purchase. Be wary if a merchant asks for bank account information, a social security number or other such unnecessary data.
  • Choose a safer way to pay. Use a credit or charge card that offers cardholder protection, or a payment service like PayPal, which shields your credit card numbers from sellers. Never use debit or ATM cards, checks (even cashier’s checks), money orders, or wire transfer services (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
  • Be cautious about storing your password, address and credit card data on sites (including for one-click shopping). Your info is only as secure as the methods used by the site’s administrators to help protect it.
  • Print or save a copy of your order, including the confirmation number or e-mail message, as your receipt. Verify payment yourself rather than following links from the seller.

Microsoft’s commitment to helping keep people safer and more secure online is in force year round. We refer to this work as fostering digital citizenship – encouraging and motivating all individuals to be responsible, informed, and appropriate users of technology. We offer a host of resources at our newly designed Safety & Security Center. And, unlike much you’re likely to encounter this holiday season, they’re all free. So, help yourself to a sizable portion of online safety advice and guidance, and consider following us on Facebook and Twitter.