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Holiday shopping online? Tips on protecting yourself using public Wi-Fi


With only nine days to go before Christmas, most American shoppers have more than half of their shopping left to do, according to a National Retail Federation survey conducted BIGresearch.

“For consumers, the holiday season is more of a marathon than a sprint – typically starting the season strong, pace themselves in the middle and gearing up again in the final stretch, a trend retailers expect every year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a news release. “As the hours tick toward Christmas, retailers still have a few tricks up their sleeves to entice even the most extreme procrastinators looking to cross the final names off their lists.”

Nearly 37 million people had not even started holiday shopping as of late last week and less than 8 percent said they’ve finished their shopping.

Almost half of those will finish shopping online, said the NRF survey.

If you plan to shop on the web (2011 Free Shipping Day is Friday) take steps to protect yourself when making purchases on public Wi-Fi networks. If you surt and buy while hanging at coffee shops, restaurants or other store, might be at risk of being scammed or having your credit card information stolen, according to Green Armor Solutions, an information security software provider.

“Criminals can set up phony access points with names identical to legitimate ones, and use any one of several hacking techniques to steal data and money from users,” said Green Armor Solutions’ CEO, Joseph Steinberg.

Here are four tips from Microsoft on how to protect your privacy on public Wi-Fi networks:

Use a firewall: Some computers that run Windows Vista or XP have a built-in firewall that’s turned on by default. You can configure a firewall to better protect against viruses and outsiders trying to gain access to your information. For more information, see Windows Firewall.

Hide files: When you use a public Wi-Fi, network encryption is often out of your control. Check the privacy statement on the network's website to learn about the type of encryption used. If there is no privacy statement, it might be better not to use the network at all.
If you keep personal or financial information on your computer, consider investing in an operating system that includes the tools to protect your information through encryption.
To learn more, see Encrypt or decrypt a folder or file.

Don't risk it: If you’re not sure if the network is secure, don't type in credit card numbers or passwords. These measures provide some protection against casual hackers and identity thieves who prey on wireless networks. But if criminals are determined enough, they will eventually find a way to get around any security system.

Avoid typing sensitive information, such as your credit card number or other financial information, while using public wireless networks.

Tip: If you absolutely must enter credit card numbers while on public Wi-Fi, make sure there is a locked padlock icon at the bottom right corner of the browser window, and make sure the web address begins with "https:" (the "s" stands for secure).

Three ways to keep up with the latest deals: "Like" our Sentinel Deals page on Facebook; follow Justine Griffin on Twitter@SunBizGriffin and sign up for Deals text alerts.

Categories: Shopping Advice (122)

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About the authors
Doreen Christensen has never paid full price for anything. If there is a way to save on something, she will find it and share how you can save, too. Doreen is a senior reporter covering consumer news, health, beauty and features for the online and print editions of the Sun Sentinel. A 32-year veteran of the newspaper, she previously was a senior copy editor on the universal copy desk. Doreen spends her time off hunting bargains, clipping coupons, gardening and traveling.

Justine Griffin covers retail and marine business for the Sun Sentinel. She is a Tampa Bay native who graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2010. After spending a year covering crime in St. Augustine, Fla., she moved to Fort Lauderdale and made the switch to business journalism. When she’s not writing, she’s riding horses and spending time with her whippet puppy, Josie.

Marcia Heroux Pounds is the Sun Sentinel's workplace columnist when she's not shopping for shoes. She also writes about small business, which allows her to visit many of South Florida's unique shops and boutiques.

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