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Cyber Monday Scams to Watch Out For

Woman making a purchase using her computer and credit card

Along with Black Friday, Cyber Monday begins the holiday gift-hunting season with don’t-miss discounts and online incentives attractive enough to get any Scrooge spending. But if you’re not wise to the ways of hackers, scammers and identity thieves, you might get more than the free shipping you bargained for. Read the tips below to safeguard your bank accounts, credit score and holiday spirit.

Ways to Avoid Cyber Monday Scams

Stick with trustworthy companies and organizations.

Shoppers often get so blinded by bargains that they lose sight of safer buying basics (such as consolidating shopping and avoiding pop-up ads). Skip deals offered by unfamiliar companies — unless you’ve got time for due diligence to verify that they’re legit. The same goes for charities. Confirm their legitimacy by checking resources such as the IRS or Charity Navigator.

Be wary of behemoth bargains.

Deals too good to be true might be a sign of a Cyber Monday scam. Read the fine print on who is behind the bargain, total price including delivery, policies on cancellation and refunds, and warranty terms. If the deal includes a rebate equal to the full cost, be very suspicious of whether the product even exists. In some cases, an unscrupulous seller might be closing shop for good with no intention of ever fulfilling your order or following through on the rebate.

Update your software.

The latest software for your computer, smartphone and tablet might include tighter security features than previous versions. To protect your personal information online, ensure you’ve installed the newest update before you start shopping. This especially includes anti-virus and anti-spyware software. If you don’t have it, get it! Also, consider installing an anti-phishing tool to ward off attacks. Phishing filters help keep user names, passwords and other sensitive info safe.

Pick strong passwords.

You might think you have a gift for crafting witty passwords, but hackers have a pretty powerful knack for cracking your code. Go long, strong and new every time you create a password for an online account. Specifically, never reuse a password, don’t use single dictionary words (combine a few, instead) and forgo using the word “password” or the numbers 1 through 6 (in order). Better yet, turn to online password generators that offer free password ideas.

Lock your portable devices.

Leaving your smartphone or tablet unlocked opens the door to anyone who steals (or accesses) your device. Utilize the screen lock on portable devices with a less-than-obvious password. Also, be conscious of when your network provider and/or smartphone automatically log you into an unsecured hot spot. See our tip in the next section on how shopping from a free and open-to-anyone Wi-Fi connection can cost you in the long run.

Keep track of your spending.

Identity thieves bank on the fact that shoppers get caught in the holiday frenzy and pay little mind to whom and for what they’ve paid. Record your purchase details (order confirmation numbers, date and time of purchase, etc.) and regularly eagle-eye your banking and credit card statements. Then, be on the lookout for purchases, especially small ones, you might not have made. Often, crooks won’t immediately go big in the hope of going unnoticed.

Don'ts for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

Don’t assume all is good if you see no complaints.

Often, scam artists set up shop just as quickly as they close down their fraudulent operations and make off with their loot. Don’t be sold solely on the fact that a company or individual seller has no complaints. Do your homework and research unfamiliar vendors before offering up your personal info and credit card number. Those who don't are more likely to fall victim to Cyber Monday scams.

Don’t shop from a free Wi-Fi connection.

Protect your personal information when shopping online. The more private your Wi-Fi connection, the more secure your shopping transaction. Avoid coffee shops, airports, libraries, and anywhere that offers free (and vulnerable) connectivity without a password for online shopping. The same goes for online banking.

Don’t use your debit card for online shopping.

Your debit card likely comes with less protection against identity theft and scams than your credit card. Use your credit card with online fraud protection instead. That way, if someone steals your information or if a vendor misrepresents a product or service, you can more easily dispute the charges and more quickly get your balance back to normal.

Don’t shop from links sent to your email.

Unsolicited emails or those sent from impostors posing (really well) as big brands could be part of a phishing scam to trick you out of protecting your personal information online. Shop directly from the sites of stores you are familiar with to avoid fraud. If you subscribe to receive emails from well-known companies and receive discounted offers, just be sure you know with whom you are dealing by checking the contact info.

Don’t make financial transactions on sites that aren’t secure.

Personal information, including details for funds transfers, becomes vulnerable when traveling from your computer to the vendor. Don’t submit sensitive info such as credit card numbers to sites that don’t encrypt it. Specifically, check that the order page URL starts with “https” (instead of “http”) or look for an icon of a closed padlock on your browser window (not on the vendor website).

The key to scam-free online shopping is paying attention. Take the time to observe safe practices and research the products and their sellers. It’s also wise to avoid stretching your wallet too thin in case you do slide into a scam that locks up your funds.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]