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How to keep your online shopping habits from ruining a Christmas surprise

Posted at 12:47 AM, Dec 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-09 00:47:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. --Ty Hester says she’ll do about half her Christmas shopping online this year.

While super convenient, Hester knows online purchases aren’t exactly discreet, thanks to the targeted ads that pop up on her computer or Facebook page every time she buys online.

“So if I buy something for my roommate and she’s using my computer, then she sees something maybe that I bought for her on accident, that would be really inconvenient,” Hester laughs.

In fact, targeted ads could spoil many holiday surprises this year, with the average American making 44 percent of their holiday purchases online.

David Saunders, President of Madison and Main, a Richmond-based advertising agency, says every time you go online to purchase a product, you create an online profile that other companies try to match in order to get your business.

That’s why if you buy a new bike for your daughter, you start seeing bike ads pop up on your browser or Facebook account.

“So smart kids can go through and see what mom and dad have been shopping for,”  Saunders warns.

The good news, Saunders says, is there are plenty of solutions to conceal or erase your online activity.

“You can change your browser history, you can delete your cookies, “ Saunders advises.  All major browsers have a search history that allows you to clear out cookies so there’s no trace of you having visited a certain website.

Another solution…on Google Chrome, for example,  you can also search the web incognito.

Experts also say the little-known Digital Ad Alliance’s AdChoices button at the top corner of ads, could limit the number of targeted ads you receive.

Just click on the blue icon and follow the prompts to opt-out of the things you don’t want to see.

Ty Hester says she’s slowly learning to cover her tracks when purchasing gifts online...although she’s less concerned about ruining any surprises for her less online-savvy parents.

“Thankfully,” Hester laughs.  “Kind of pull the wool over their eyes I guess.”