Look out for Cyber Monday deals - and scams

By Jennifer Bowen - email

(RNN) - While Black Friday is the official launch of the holiday shopping season for brick-and-mortar stores, Cyber Monday kicks off the start of the shopping season for those doing their buying online.

Online retailers roll out big savings for those willing to log-on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

A survey by shop.org shows that 88 percent of retailers will have special promotions for Cyber Monday, up slightly over last year and up from 72 percent in 2007.

[Click here for special Cyber Monday deals offered by major retailers]

"Cyber Monday has become such a crucial component of the holiday season that many retailers and shoppers don't remember the holidays without it," said Joan Broughton, interim executive director of Shop.org. "And just when we think that Cyber Monday can't get any bigger, it does."

In a report by Pricegrabber.com, 37 percent of people say they plan to shop online on Cyber Monday. The term was coined in 2005 when retailers noticed a trend of people logging on the Monday after the Thanksgiving holidays. The trend has gained momentum as people become more and more connected to technology.

"The explosion onto the market of mobile devices with Internet access like smart phones, tablets, and netbooks has freed shoppers from being tied to their desktop or laptop computer when they want to shop online," said Laura Conrad, president of Pricegrabber.com. "Consumers are now, more than ever, able to shop online anytime, anywhere."

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With internet convenience and savings can come the risk of scams and identity theft.

"Unfortunately, no one is immune to these types of crimes and they can have a tremendous impact on your finances long after the holidays are over," said Barbara Saylor, a spokeswoman for Capital One. "The rush of the holiday season can make it a busy time for identity thieves, but shoppers can take simple steps to help guard their personal information." 

Capital One offers these tips to keep your online shopping experience a safe one:

  • Use secure online shopping sites - To ensure that your information is protected when shopping online, look for an unbroken key or padlock at the bottom of your web browser when providing payment information. When you're asked to provide payment information, the beginning of the website's URL address should change from http to shttp or https, indicating that the purchase is encrypted or secured.
  • Check out the seller - Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe , Verisign, or BBBonline. If it's your first time on an unfamiliar site, call the seller's phone number, so you know you can reach them if you need to. If you can't find a working phone number, take your business elsewhere.
  • Use caution with social media - Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly used by retailers to promote new deals and disseminate coupons. Unfortunately, scammers are also using these sites, often masquerading as a friend to deliver malicious links or downloads that can allow hackers to steal personal information. Keep this in mind when using social media tools and be particularly suspicious of messages or promotions you did not sign up to receive, even if they come from "friends." Instead of following links, go directly to the store's website and navigate to find the special sale item.
  • Never give out your account information or social security number - Never respond to emails or instant messages that ask you to provide account information for "verification." Don't follow links to websites in such emails, either. These are known as "phishing" scams and are used to collect account information that can then be used for fraudulent purchases.
  • Consider how you'll pay - Credit cards generally are a safe option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn't delivered or isn't what was ordered. Don't send cash or use a money-wiring service because you'll have no recourse if something goes wrong.
  • Keep your password private - Many e-commerce websites require shoppers to log-in before viewing or placing an order. When selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, such as your name, birth date, or numbers from your driver's license or Social Security number. You should also refrain from reusing the same password for multiple sites.
  • Choose security question answers that only you know - In addition to keeping your passwords private, also beware of security questions that help retrieve your password in the event that you forget it. Even the most trivial information - like your mother's maiden name or first pet's name - can be exploited by cybercriminals. Many of these details may seem unimportant, but they can serve as password recovery hints for email addresses or online banking accounts.
  • Keep a paper trail - Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of any email you exchange with the seller. Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there aren't any unauthorized charges.
  • Use a secure computer - When you're away from home, do not save private information onto computers used by the public. If you're accessing a private account at the library or another public place, be sure to log out completely from your accounts, and do not save login information (like your username or password) on these computers.
  • Keep your web browsers and operating system up to date - Most software developers release updates of their software on a regular basis that provide fixes to known problems, improve performance, and provide new functionality. In general, it's up to the user to decide if and when software should be updated or upgraded to a new release. Upgrading and keeping your software current can ensure that your system has the highest level of protection.

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