Tomorrow is Cyber Monday, the online equivalent of Black Friday.  Online vendors offer great deals  — without the crowds, lines and hassles. While I never partake in Black Friday shopping (although I do practice Small Business Saturday shopping), I always try to get some time for Cyber Monday shopping!

Ah, but it is not without its problems.  There are great deals, but those that seem too good to be true often are just that, untrue.  People will pretend to give you bargains, and even pretend to be something they are not just so they can steal your money.  So, you need to be ready for them if you are planning to shop on Cyber Monday.  These are some hints that will help you keep safe.

  1. Only shop with companies you know.  Those little boutiques and great offshore stores may look like they offer great deals, but you may never get anything from them.  They should be avoided unless you are sure they exist because someone else has shopped there or you have some physical evidence that they exist.
  2. Don’t click on a link from an email to get to a website.  The link may look safe, but you do not know that link will direct your browser to where it says it is going.  If you must, copy the email address that it is visible and paste it into your browser manually.  Once you arrive at the page, look at it carefully to be sure it is the intended site and not a fake site made to look like a real site.  It is easy to reproduce logos, colors and the like to make a page resemble a legitimate business page even if it is not.
  3. Only provide your financial information  to websites that are secure.   Anything sent over a regular Internet connection can be captured by people with the correct knowledge and tools.  To avoid hackers having access to information such as your credit card number, you want to send the information over a secure internet connection.  Reputable stores will transfer you to a secure connection before asking for financial information.  You can tell two ways.  First, you should be able to see a locked padlock icon somewhere on your screen (it is different with different browsers, different versions and different kinds of machines).  For example, in Firefox on a PC, the padlock is at the top of the page near the “go back” button.  Also, even if you cannot find the padlock, look at the URL, or address in the locator window at the top of the page.  If it is a secure connection, the address will start with https:// (instead of the normal http://).  The “s” stands for secure.
  4. Try to use just one credit card online.  In today’s world there are lots of examples of hacking both online and at the brick and mortar stores.  It is a good practice to use a credit card online that is not your main credit card.  In that way if you are a victim of fraud, you can cancel the one card and still have another for your regular purchases.
  5. Keep passwords secure.  Most of us think passwords are a hassle.  While they are a hassle and it is hard to remember secure passwords or multiple passwords, they often are the only thing keeping your credit card and other personal information safe.  Keep them secure and keep them “strong” (hard to guess).  For more information on this, I recommend you look at the blog entry on passwords.
  6. ALWAYS use anti-virus software, a firewall and anti-spyware software.    It is amazingly easy to pick up malware on the Internet.  (For more information, check out my blog on malware.)  Having those tools available does not guarantee that you will not have problems anymore than putting locks on your doors will prevent you from being burglarized.  But, we all lock our doors at night.

Enjoy your hassle-free shopping, but be careful.  It is easy to forget there are undesirable people in cyberspace just like there are in most communities.  Avoid them if you can!