AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF)- ‘Tis the season for shopping and these days more people shop and donate online during the holidays than ever before. Scammers know this and are ready to steal your hard earned money. But how do you know if the website you are on is legitimate?

If someone reaches out to you, asking for a charitable donation, always ask for the name, mission, and location of the charity.

Watch out for people that ask you to pay in crypto currency, prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, or bank transfers. It’s likely a scam.

You should also always research a charity before donating.

And remember, even if a friend or family member that you know very well reaches out by email or social media about donations, be wary.

“And then the email often says ‘Hey this is urgent. Can you please help us with a gift card?’ Or ‘Can you please go buy a gift card for me? I’m your boss.’ And things like that. So, when we happen to see something like that, if we have their phone number, then it’s better to call the contact and verify to make sure it is them,” explained Dr. Gokila Dorai, an Assistant Professor at AU School of Computer and Cyber Science.

Most people have taken to doing their holiday shopping online and big retail websites are generally safe. But what about small business websites? How do you know if your information is safe?

It’s important to be sure your information is encrypted. One big way to do this is to look at the address bar in your browser.

Look for the padlock and where it says “https” instead of “http.” It lets you know its a secure website and your information is safe.

Look for the padlock icon and “https” instead of “http.”

Before you provide any personal or financial information, make sure you are doing business with a reputable vendor.

A common scam is to create a malicious website that seems real or mimics a legit website.
Scammers will also email you with phishing emails pretending to be retailers. If you click on the link you will be taken to a malicious website and your account could be wiped out.

Again, large retail websites are usually safe, but be cautious when visiting a small business website.

“See if there are any reviews posted about that website or social media forums. See if there have been previous complaints about people talking badly. ‘We made a payment. We have been waiting such a long time. Things have never been shipped to us.’ So, any such complaints are red flags,” said Dr. Dorai.

A final tip- use your credit card instead of your debit card. There are laws that limit your liability for fraudulent charges that may not apply to your debit card.

Photojournalist: Will Baker.