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For those of you who are loath to fight your way through the holiday crowds and parking lots at your local mall, you might want to consider doing the bulk of your gift shopping online. Browsing and buying online can save you a ton of time and headaches, and even money. From November through to January, many online stores reduce the shipping fees on their products, or offer other incentives to do some painless one-stop shopping on their websites.

shopping online

But it’s also important to follow a few guidelines if you're going to be shopping online:

Know who you’re dealing with. Anyone can set up shop online. Confirm an online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you need to get in touch with them, or deal only with established sites and retailers.

Check out the terms of the deal, like refund policies and delivery dates. Can you return the item you bought online for a full refund? If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or re-stocking fees? Check on when you can expect to receive your order. Can the recipient return your gift? If so, ask that a gift receipt be included in the package.

Never e-mail your financial information. Legitimate companies never ask for this information via email or pop-ups. If you are providing your credit card information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).

Keep a paper trail. Print and save records of your online shopping transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of any email you exchange with the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them to be on the lookout for unauthorized charges.

For more tips about online shopping, consult the Federal Trade Commission’s website for e-consumers: