This Christmas, millions of shoppers will forgo overcrowded malls for the comforts of online shopping. But even though online shopping is safe, it never hurts to take a few extra steps to safeguard your information ... especially if you're chasing after an obscure gift you found on an unfamiliar site. Our editors have gathered a few guidelines that everyone should follow when shopping at an unfamiliar store, plus one tip that will help even the most paranoid shopper rest assured. Shop Where You're Safe: Wi-Fi is great, but when you're shopping online it pays to use a secure connection. Many hotspots, like those found in cafes, hotels, and libraries, are open so it's easy for would-be thieves to access these networks and steal your identity. Leeching off your neighbor's open network is just as dubious. We recommend using secure and encrypted networks when shopping online. Likewise, try not to use a public computer when shopping. A public computer may retain your personal information if that computer's browser has cookies enabled. And remember to log out after every shopping session. Look for the Padlock: Not sure you're logged onto a safe URL? Secure websites start with "https" rather than "http". In addition, your Web browser will always display a key or closed padlock icon (usually found on the bottom right or top right corner of your browser window) when you're visiting a secure site. Double click on the icon to check out the site's security certificate and make sure it comes from a reliable security firm, such as VeriSign. In other words, if think you're shopping at Amazon.com and the security certificate comes from ARmazon.com, chances are you're being hosed. Don't take your chances and always make sure the site you're on is protected. Don't Shop at Random Stores: Here at dealnews we make it a point of bringing you verified deals from reputable retailers. But not every deal out there is legit. Before you hand over your credit card information, do some basic homework to reduce the odds that the store you're dealing with isn't going to run away with your money. Always look for contact information, like a phone number, e-mail, or physical address, where you can contact the store. Once you have a phone number in hand, call it, to make sure it's an active line. Also make sure you're familiar with the store's return policy. If the website you're dealing with still makes you raise an eyebrow, look them up on the Better Business Bureau's website. The BBB gives you an idea if a company is legit, and it even rates stores based on customer satisfaction. Still feeling queasy handing over your info? Listen to your gut instinct. If you don't feel safe shopping at a store, bail. Use a Virtual Credit Card: Virtual credit card numbers are linked to your credit card, but unlike your credit card, virtual numbers are only good for one transaction or limited to a predetermined dollar amount. They're available from most banks like Citi, Bank of America, and Discover, providing an extra layer of protection when shopping online. The service is free and usually requires you to download special software from your bank. Once installed, your bank then provides you with a substitute 16-digit number you can use to shop online. You can use the number online or over the phone, but not for purchases that require you to show your card, like airline ticket purchases or car rentals. Louis Ramirez is a dealnews Features Editor who refuses to let thieves have a Merry Christmas at his expense.