* Know the businesses you are dealing with: The Better Business Bureau Online (http://www.bbbonline.org) collects information on Internet merchants, including complaints and data on shipping and customer satisfaction.

Read the merchant site's privacy and security policy.

* Beware e-mail scams: Do not click on links or attachments that arrive in e-mail unless you can verify the message's authenticity.

Never buy anything online by clicking on a link you received via e-mail.

* Sign up safely: Many Web merchants require customers to register a user name and password to complete transactions. Avoid using personal information such as Social Security numbers or birthdays. Do not use the same password at multiple sites that store your financial and personal data.

* Shop securely: Before you provide personal information, change the Web address from "http" to "https," which indicates information you send cannot be read by a third party.

* Use credit cards: Most credit card companies have "zero liability" policies under which customers pay nothing if their account is used by identity thieves.

* Secure your PC: Use anti-virus software equipped with the latest updates to scan your machine for viruses that might reveal everything that is typed on your keyboard. Also protect your computer with firewall software and make sure your Windows PC is up to date with the latest security patches from Microsoft. (http://update.microsoft.com).