There it is, that fantastic gift everybody wants but has been so hard to find. Your excitement builds as you take out your credit card and begin typing in the number and expiration date quickly, before someone else snags the last item in stock.

But then you notice that you’re on You’ve never heard of it but it must be legit if it’s online, right? Wrong!

One of the biggest mistakes shoppers can make when buying online is failing to shop with legitimate online retailers. Instead of buying gifts, shoppers are handing over their credit card information to fraudsters.

"There are dummy websites," said Trevor Buxton, fraud communications manager and Certified Fraud Examiner at PNC. "Be suspicious of any email that contains a link to an online vendor site. You’re much safer just typing in the vendor that you know and trust."

Succumbing to fake shopping sites is among the many ways consumers can be defrauded online this holiday season. Here are a few tips to help ensure your credit card account – and your holiday season – remain safe and worry free.

  • Don’t click on ads on social media sites. There are a lot of fraudsters waiting to reel you in with an unbelievable offer.
  • Look for websites that start with https. The ‘s’ means the website is secure.
  • Do not respond to unrequested emails from third parties that provide a shopping opportunity. It likely is a phishing attempt.
  • Check your credit card statement frequently to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.
  • Set up year-round alerts with your credit card company so you know when a purchase has been made.
  • Provide the minimum amount of information when you make an online purchase.
  • Do not use your debit card for online purchases.

"By using a debit card, you’re giving a fraudster a direct line to your bank account, and could give them the ability to go to the ATM and pull out all of your money. In addition to the obvious issue with this, it also can cause you to incur overdraft fees because you won’t have the money for your automatic deductions," Buxton said. "That's much more disruptive than a fraudster maxing out your credit card. You can dispute those charges with your bank."

The best option for buying items online is to use a secure payment system. Mobile payment options that require a fingerprint authentication are the most secure.

Safe Delivery

After shopping online, there are several ways to protect your packages from theft once they’re delivered.

  • Have the vendor deliver the packages to one of its stores in your area.
  • Consider paying extra to have the delivery driver put the packages inside your house.
  • Sign up for free delivery alerts that let you know when a package has arrived on your doorstep.
  • Ship your packages to someone who will be home when they arrive.
  • Ship packages to your place of business, if your employer permits.

"It’s generally safe to shop online and, if you follow these tips, you can relax and enjoy the holiday season without worrying" Buxton said.

How do you know when a website is fake or real?

Watch out for strange URLs, an odd selection of items for sale, broken language, bad web design, and spelling and grammatical errors. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts.