I think you all know about my love/hate relationship with facebook, but here’s another chapter in the love story: reconnecting with an old childhood family friend (our moms were besties), and finding out they’re at the top of their game in an unlikely career path, at least for a woman of our (my!) age. Meet Julie the Computer Mom. I wish she lived right next door so she could solve all my tech headaches, but she does publish a handy newsletter, chock full of understandable tech tips. I’m passing on her indispensable Six Tips for Shopping Safely Online here, and if you’re in the Boston or slightly-west-of area, and need any sort of assistance (Mac or PC), give her a jingle: 508-359-8176. www.thecomputermom.com By Julie Marto With the holiday season upon us, it’s a good idea to review some basic safety tips for shopping online. I am often asked if it’s “safe” to shop online, and I answer that it’s probably safer than driving to the mall, as long as you follow these simple guidelines: •Always make sure you are using a secure website before you enter any personal information. Check the address bar in your browser and make sure the web address starts with “https” not “http” and that somewhere on the web page there is a padlock symbol. This means that any personal information you enter will be transmitted over the internet in a secure, encrypted format, rather than in an open, readable format. •Never use a debit card online. Even though you should be safe shopping online if you follow the rest of my tips, there is always the chance that things will go wrong and your card information will be compromised. If you use a credit card to shop, you have an entire billing cycle to straighten out any issues. If you use your debit card and it is compromised, criminals can wipe out the entire balance of your checking account before you even know there is a problem. Although your liability is limited if you report unauthorized transactions immediately, you can find yourself in a position where you are bouncing checks and without funds until the problem is resolved. •Buy from trusted merchants. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, Google is your best friend. I often search online for a specific product and am presented with a long list of vendors sorted by price. Frequently the least expensive options are from companies I have never heard of. I always use Google or another search engine to do a quick investigation of the vendor and see if they are reputable or not. This small extra step can save you from ordering a gift that will never arrive, or worse, giving your personal information to a crook. •Create a separate email address just for shopping. You need to get email communications from merchants about your orders, and you might want to hear about future sales or promotions. But who wants their personal email inbox cluttered with that type of communications? Also, less scrupulous online sales sites sometimes sell your information to spammers, or leave email addresses vulnerable to harvesting by hackers. If you set up an email account that you use exclusively for shopping you can limit your vulnerability to spammers and keep control over your “real” inbox. •Check your credit card accounts frequently. Don’t wait until you get a statement to check accounts you use for online transactions. Log into your credit card account online periodically, or call the number on the card to see what charges have been made. Remember, the sooner you report any unauthorized charges the sooner any problems can be nipped in the bud. •Don’t shop online from a public WIFI hotspot. Public WIFI is inherently insecure, as you are basically sharing a network with everybody else around you. The person drinking coffee next to you could be using very simple “sniffing” software to track your keystrokes and try to steal your personal information. Wait until you are home and on your own network to do any type of e-commerce, or use your phone as a personal hotspot.