NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — As advertisements for diamond rings, Christmas lights and turkey recipes abound, there's no doubt that the holiday season is approaching. Many of us are probably already thinking about what to give our loved ones. Yet, we all know how stressful holiday shopping can be. It's crowded everywhere! The same songs are blasting in every store! We're strapped for time.

And while some people peruse malls and stores to have their presents ready weeks in advance, others prefer the comfort of ordering their gifts online (sometimes, at the very last minute). Especially in this challenging economy, many like to hunt for online bargains. Yet ordering your gifts can expose you to online fraud or identity theft. The holiday season is particularly dangerous, because hackers know that large numbers of people will shop online.

If you don't want to spend half a day cancelling your credit cards and resetting your account information, follow these tips, so you can have a safe online holiday shopping experience.

1. Use a browser with 128-bit encryption

You want to ensure that your Internet browser uses a 128-bit encryption, as this is the highest form of security under the Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, protocol that is the standard for Internet security. This means that when you enter information into a website, a special key is used to encrypt (meaning third parties can't read it) the data. Another key that is specific only to the website of the retailer or bank is used to decrypt the information. 128-bit encryption should be used on all browsers at all times. Make sure your browser is always updated.

2. Use a difficult password and change it frequently

Nowadays, we manage so many Internet accounts, from online banking to social media and streaming services, that we tend to want to keep passwords as simple as possible. Yet, this is ideal for hackers. Popular passwords (and password resets) like birth dates/places or pet/family names are easily found online. If you use a complex combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, your password will be much harder to crack. While it might seem like a huge hassle to keep multiple, complicated passwords that are being changed constantly, it will pay off in the long run as you significantly minimize the risk of getting hacked.

3. Verify the domain

A very common online fraud strategy is to create a fake website that looks just like a commonly used website like or Scammers hope that you won't notice that the site is fake and enter your information as usual. Often, you will be directed to these sites through friends' profiles (especially when their account has been hacked) or spam mail that made it into your inbox. If you get to such a site indirectly, carefully check the domain in the address bar. If it's some odd variation of the original website, for example; or, it's clearly a fake website that you should close immediately.