The catalogues have already started to fill up your post box and advertisements for "must have" items are cluttering your email inbox. It's holiday time and retailers are going to great lengths to attract your attention.

With the current economic situation, and aggressive pricing offered on-line, it is likely that more people will use online shopping this holiday season. While online shopping should be as secure as any other type of shopping, it pays to be careful.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has some safety tips that it recommends all consumers follow when ordering gifts over the Internet or by mail:

Make sure you are doing business with a legitimate company. Check out companies with the Better Business Bureau and with the Secretary of State where the business is located to check for complaints and to verify they have current business licenses.

Be proactive. When you order items, the website should be a secure website, indicated by "//https:" beginning the address, and a locked padlock icon on the web browser indicating a secure website. Research the company using the Internet. Make sure it has a legitimate street address and a phone contact number that actually delivers the caller to a person. These will become vital if there is a problem with the order. Search for any complaints on the company that people have posted. Often a simple Google search for "xxx company complaints problems" may influence your purchasing choice. Also, you may want to shop in stores located in the United States. If you choose to shop outside the U.S., know the regulations of the country involved. U.S. companies are more closely regulated than those outside of the U.S.

Read the fine print. You should know the return policy and the procedure the company uses to process your orders. Read the shipping rules to find out who pays for shipping. They may have different policies for shipping to you versus a returned item. It might be wise to ask if they insure the package when shipping. Ask whether you get a store credit or a full refund if you must return the item. Ask about any restocking charges. Confirm that they do not share your information with other companies. Remember that you can you "opt-out" of further promotional offers if you wish.

Keep a paper trail. Keep a photocopy of your order, the mailing address and phone number of the company, and the confirmation of your order. Use a credit card that you designate for online shopping only. This means you have a single statement that is easier to check for fraudulent purchases. Do not use debit cards for on-line shopping, as debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards, and can be used to remove funds immediately from your account. Never send a check to pay for a purchase. Checks can be copied and used in many ways for fraudulent activity.

Keep your computer safe. Finally, make sure that your computer is safe for Internet shopping. Keep your computer protection programs, such as firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software updated.