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Consumer Protection: Tips to Shop Smart

Whether you enjoy the hustle and bustle of traditional holiday shopping or prefer the convenience of ordering gifts online, Hillsborough County Consumer Protection and the Federal Trade Commission want to help you avoid scams, safeguard deliveries from porch pirates, and ensure an overall good shopping experience.

Here are five tips to help protect your information this holiday season:

  • Protect your devices - Install high-quality, anti-virus software and update it regularly. Programs can be found at local retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and BestBuy.
  • Secure your network - Password protect and ensure that security is enabled on your Wi-Fi or home networks to deter hackers from uncovering your personal information. A strong password on your home network is an especially important step before you enter your credit card information on retailers' websites. Technical assistance is available from your Internet provider.
  • Browse safely - Look for the security information. Check for the letters, "https:"in the website address at the top of your screen. That "s" in the address stands for "secure." You might also see a little padlock symbol in the same line, meaning it's safe. Be careful and avoid using public Wi-Fi or hotspots that might reveal your personal information.
  • Shop safely - If you're using a site that you're unsure of, consider using an alternate form of payment such as a prepaid debit card for your online shopping. This can offer protection but may also charge a small fee, usually around a dollar per transaction. A similar option is to use a third-party company such as PayPal. You may be required to create an account, but can sometimes register as a guest. Remember: Always choose a strong password with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Make passwords unique, and don't use the same password for multiple websites or accounts.
  • Protect your information - Take time to monitor your accounts and identity for unauthorized charges during this busy holiday shopping season-this includes credit reports. You can get a copy of your credit report for free and find other important information at AnnualCreditReport.com. Be sure to report suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately as banks or companies might require a police report before agreeing that you're not responsible for any fraudulent charges.

The Federal Trade Commission also offers practical consumer tips, such as reading product and seller reviews, checking refund policies, and saving receipts. For more information, contact Hillsborouth County Protection.