Last year, Americans spent a record $1.46 billion on Cyber Monday, according to digital analytics company ComScore, and there’s little reason to believe that we won’t break that online holiday shopping record this year, on December 2, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Of course, the holiday season is also prime-time for hackers, identity thieves and other cyber-criminals looking to steal your personal information, money or both.
Here are some reminders to protect yourself while shopping online on Cyber Monday, and throughout the holiday shopping season.
Protect your computer by making sure it has a secure firewall and the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
Shop on trustworthy websites. Start with the Better Business Bureau to check on the seller’s reputation and customer satisfaction record. Check for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized trust marks on retailer web sites and click on the seals to be sure they are valid.
Beware of deals that sound too good to be true, such as extremely low prices on popular, hard-to-get items, especially in unsolicited e-mails. Don’t let your love of a good deal overrule your common sense.
Watch out for fake web sites. For example, the address of the Better Business Bureau web site is B B B dot org. If you are provided with a URL with the words Better Business Bureau spelled out, it’s a scam. Don’t fall for it.
Beware of phishing, spelled with a ‘ph’. Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure you into revealing financial information. Never click on the links in such e-mails. Go to the site yourself by typing the business’s actual URL into your browser.
Make sure that your online purchase is secure by checking the web address box for the ‘s’, as in https, and looking in the lower-right corner for the lock symbol before paying. When in doubt, right-click anywhere on the page and select Properties to see the site’s real web address and the dialog box revealing that the site is not encrypted–which means any information you share may not be safe.
Pay with a credit card, not a debit or prepaid card. With a credit card, under federal law, you can dispute charges if you don’t receive the item you purchased, as well as any purchases that you did not authorize. Never wire money to pay for a purchase; it could be next to impossible to get back.
Keep documentation of your online orders. Save copies of your final confirmation page and receipts, both printed and on your computer. The Better Business Bureau also recommends printing and saving a copy of the web page.