12/20/2012 06:27 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Gift Giving and Unsafe Shopping: Which is Better?

The stress of holiday shopping often outweighs the joy of gift buying. The crowded malls, parking space battles, long lines, limited store inventory and overwhelmed sales associates drive more people to shop online each year, where consumers sit quietly with a beverage in hand perusing a countless number of gift deals and choices. In fact, over half of consumers expect to utilize the Internet to purchase gifts and other holiday-related items this year, according to the National Retail Federation, with almost 40 percent of holiday purchases expected to take place on retail and company websites.

Online shopping represents just one portion of the growing Internet influence over holiday spending. Internet-related gifts fill a growing percentage of the buying market. Kindles, iPads, laptops and digital gaming top the list of the most popular gift choices this year. With consumer spending expected to exceed $586 billion, a massive portion of these sales will likely come from electronic devices.

As the Internet becomes more vital to the holiday buying and giving experience, our increasing online "connectedness" steers us toward an array of digital hazards. To name a few: cyber crime, identity theft, data corruption and inappropriate content sharing continue to rise at alarming rates, and may be facilitated through online shopping and the use of electronic gadgets. In order to protect you and your family from the most common Internet risks this holiday season, consider the following basic safety steps:

  • Confirm the legitimacy of URL addresses and companies through the Better Business Bureau before providing financial information, particularly when Internet advertisements or spam emails seem too good to be true
  • Utilize secure sites (search for sites beginning with HTTPS rather than HTTP to ensure the site is secure and look for the lock icon on all buying sites)
  • Consider the use of payment protection options, including PayPal and security services, such as BillGuard, to help keep personal and financial information secure
  • Only make online purchases using secured WiFi networks with strong password settings
  • Operate current Internet security software and update your security settings and applications frequently
  • Utilize passwords on mobile devices, including cell phones and tablets
  • For less Internet savvy shoppers, spend time familiarizing yourself with Internet capabilities, usage and scams (A Platform for Good provides coupons for more experienced Internet users to offer the less technology capable alongside digital gifts)
  • Employ parent protections and safety settings for child-centered technology gifts (A Platform for Good also offers personalized online safety cards for parents to outline safety rules and Internet expectations for an array of electronic gadgets)

Enjoy all the Internet has to offer this holiday season, but remain diligent in your purchasing and buying decisions. For more information on how to shop safely online, see also Avoiding the Cyber Crime Holiday and Be a Safe Santa Online.