Newswise — While hunting down the perfect gift for Aunt Sally or rushing to whip up a revered family recipe, the last thing on your mind this holiday season might be your safety and security. To help keep this celebratory season a happy one, experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) offer holiday shopping safety tips.

Don’t take the cyber bait

“Users should be just as aware of their surroundings when shopping online as they are when shopping in a mall," said Amar Yousif, chief information security officer at UTHealth. "Make sure the sites you visit are reputable, limit the virtual places you store your credit card information and use long passwords or passphrases. Your virtual security depends on your vigilance.”

  • Delivery notification scams - Think twice if you receive an email alert from companies like UPS, FedEx and Amazon that claim there’s an issue with your package’s delivery. The email will attempt to create an urgent need for you to click on a link or open an attachment. The “act now” urgency can be a sign of a phishing attack.
  • Refunds - Beware of emails offering you a refund for a wrong transaction from retail or e-commerce businesses. Personal information you divulge from clicking a link in the email could be sold to cybercriminals.
  • Free or huge discount offers - Complimentary vouchers and huge gift card discounts are another popular way to deceive shoppers. This scam may come in the form of an email, social media promotion or contest. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Protect your devices and information. Prevent having your personal or work equipment and information stolen.

  • Secure your mobile devices - Keep electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones out of sight or in secured compartments when not in use.
  • Encrypt - Add another level of protection by having devices encrypted.
  • Lock down logins - Usernames and passwords are not enough to protect your key accounts. Enable one-time passcodes through an app on your mobile device for added protection.
  • Be Wi-Fi savvy - Free public Wi-Fi hotspots are not secure. When in these areas, avoid logging in to bank websites or other sites that contain sensitive and personal information.
  • Bluetooth - Turn off Bluetooth when it is not in use to avoid cyberattacks aimed at software accessing that feature.

Be alert

“We see an increase in personal crimes during the holiday season,” said William H. Adcox, chief of The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police). “Shoppers should stay alert to their surroundings, especially in parking lots and garages. Remember to always secure your belongings and purchases out of sight and park in well-lit areas.”

  • Don’t leave your purse, computer bag, purchases or returns visible in your car - Cover them or put them in the trunk.
  • Be wary of any strangers – While in parking lots or public places, always be cautious of someone directly approaching you or following behind you. Don’t engage in conversation with strangers.
  • Lock it – Have your keys out before you leave the store. Lock your door as soon as you enter the car and keep windows rolled up.
  • Watch where you park – Avoid parking next to vans or other large vehicles that could hide someone waiting for your return. Remember where you parked.
  • Ask for assistance – Don’t hesitate to ask mall or store security to escort you to your vehicle, especially at night.
  • Don’t stack empty boxes for trash pickup – The empty boxes display the new or expensive additions to your home; break boxes down and put them in your trash or recycling bin instead.