Shopping online allows us to research and find just the right product at the best price, anytime of the day or night. But how do you maintain your safety and privacy in the online environment?

Here's what you need to know to protect yourself when online shopping.

1. Purchase only from well-established companies.
Just about anyone can get a merchant account online and ask for your credit card number. Your best bet is to do business only with reputable online merchants that have established privacy and return policies. These policies should be easily accessible from the main page of the website, and a site's Privacy Policy should indicate the type of information that the site collects and how it uses that information.

2. Guard your personal information carefully.
It's always a good idea to give as little personal information as is required by any website. Fill out required fields only, and don't give your personal information unless you are comfortable with the policies listed on the site.

Sometimes, when you make an online purchase or even when you're simply registering as a customer at an online merchant, you'll see a checkbox that will allow you to either opt in or opt out of certain mailings. Read these offers carefully. A merchant may be asking for your permission to share your contact information with other companies.

3. Look for browser clues and safe shopping logos.
Before you enter your credit card number, make sure that the 'https' code appears in front of the URL in your browser. Also look for the symbol in the lower right corner of your browser that indicates a secure connection. (Depending on your browser, this is typically a padlock or a key). Also look for the 'VeriSign' logo or 'Hacker-Safe' logo on the website. And don't ever email your credit card number to a merchant.

4. Protect your passwords.
When you create a password on any site that contains personal and/or financial data, make the password unique – instead of your birthday or your telephone number, for example, use a combination of letters and numbers. Write down your passwords, keep them in a safe place, and don't share them with anyone.

5. Charge it.
Use a credit card, instead of a debit card. When you make a purchase with a credit card, you are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which means that you have the right to dispute charges and even withhold payment for charges that were made without your authorization. When shopping around for a credit card, check for additional online security benefits or protection offered by cards.

6. Go with your gut.
If something doesn't feel right to you, don't hit the 'submit' button. Back out of the transaction by erasing the data and closing the window.

7.Beware of Phishing scams.
Phishing involves emails or popups that appear to be from authentic websites or financial sources asking you to update your account information. These are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The best bet is to avoid clicking on links in an email, even those that appear to come from respected and established sites, such as paypal, ebay, or your credit card companies. Instead, type the company's website address directly into your browser. When contacting a company in regard to your personal and financial information, use the URLs, telephone numbers, and mailing addresses located on your account statements – not those that appear in an email.

8. Beware of free offers.
Companies may use a sweepstakes offer or freebie to entice you to submit your personal information. Again, its best to share personal information only with reputable, established sites, and to read the privacy policies on these sites and in association with these free offers. If you do enter your email address in this kind of promotion, use a separate email address, such as those provided by yahoo or hotmail.

9. Protect yourself from spam.
Phishing scams often come in the form of unsolicited bulk email, or spam. Check to see if your Internet Service Provider offers a spam filtering solution, or check into a third-party spam filter, such as SpamArrest.

10. Keep your computer updated.
Update your antivirus, malware, and spyware protection regularly, and make sure that your operating system is set up to automatically download and install the latest security patches, as well.

You can enjoy the convenience of shopping online, as long as you are proactive and use common sense in protecting your privacy. According to the 2006 State of Retailing Online report from and Forrester Research, online sales are expected to hit $211 billion this year. That's a rise of 20 percent over last year and comes just three years after the industry hit the $100 billion milestone.

As the industry continues to grow, respected online merchants will continue to strive to ensure you have a safe, satisfying, and enjoyable experience on the Internet.

Author's Bio: 

Jamie Jefferson writes for, which collects online coupon codes only from established, reputable merchants.