Cyber Monday, the Internet equivalent of Black Friday, has blown up in recent years, with online merchants offering more bargains than ever for shoppers who prefer to shop from home.
While most mechants are on the level, Internet scammers see Cyber Monday as an opportunity to separate you from your money. They want you to click on links in e-mails that will redirect you to false or misleading websites. They're hungry to steal your password, hoping you use the same log-in for all your accounts, including online banking.
Fortunately, avoiding such scams isn't that difficult, if you follow a few rules. It's also important to know your rights when shopping online. An informed consumer is a safer consumer.
To keep you safe as you shop, Coupon Sherpa has compiled 17 tips to help you enjoy shopping on Cyber Monday without worry.
1. Security software: First and foremost, make sure your computer has security software installed from a respected company. PCMag.com reviewed the 2010 versions of software programs from the big names in security, including McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky, AVG and more. This software should include up-to-date firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Most packages run $50 to $80, but that's a small price to pay for peace of mind.
2. Know who you’re dealing with: Check out the seller before shopping online and be sure to get the name and physical address of the vendor, in case something goes wrong.
3. Be smart when shopping auction sites: You may want to use auctions for special deals, hard-to-find collectibles or expensive electronics. Learn how each auction site works before beginning. Use such protected methods of payment as a credit card.
If you use a third party payment system like PayPal, read the terms carefully to understand what protection it offers. Always ask about terms of delivery and return options. Be extremely cautious of auctions that ask for payment via wire transfer.
Finally, check the track record of the seller before you bid. EBay provides excellent guidelines that also apply to most online auction sites. This doesn't mean you should avoid auction sites altogether, but it's wise to do some research before diving in.
4. Pay by credit card: Your credit card protects you when you're purchasing an item for later delivery. Federal law allows you to dispute the charges if you don't receive the promised purchase. You can also dispute unauthorized charges on your credit card. Many card issuers have "zero liability" policies, under which you pay nothing if someone steals your credit card number and uses it. Many debit cards providers are beginning to offer such protections, so check with your bank to see what coverage is included with your card.
6. Select a secure password: Avoid using your address, birth date, phone number, recognizable words, or even your pet's name as a password. Choose a string of at least six letters and numbers for the best security.
One easy way to create a memorable password is to take the first letter of each word in an expression or song lyric, and add some numbers. For example, "tmottobg!" is derived from a line in "Take Me Out To The Old Ball Game." Don't use the same password for all sites, particularly your bank and credit-card accounts.
7. Only make payments on secure sites: When you reach the payment portion of a web site, the URL address should change from “http” to “https” or “shttp,” indicating your purchase is encrypted or secured. Look for an icon on your browser -- usually in the bottom right of the window in the form of a padlock closing -- that indicates a page is secure.
8. Review shipping costs: Shipping and handling costs vary widely on the web and may equal or excel the cost of items under $10. Most merchants include a section on shipping costs and return policies, which you'll often find in an FAQ or customer-service section. Read the terms thoroughly before proceeding to check out. Make sure at checkout that you're not paying a premium for rush shipping, unless you really want fast delivery and are willing to pay the extra cost.
9. Check your order: Double check the online form for item number and number ordered. It's easy to order "22" rather than "2" of an item if your finger slips on the keyboard.
Many electronic order forms will tell you the total price of your order before you buy. Pay attention to that total price so you can crosscheck the items and quantity. Also, check any confirmation e-mail that you receive from the seller. If it doesn't agree with what you wanted, immediately notify the seller by e-mail or telephone.
10. Cancelling your order: Some web sites allow you to cancel your order electronically if you act within the period indicated. If you haven't canceled by the posted deadline, consult the merchant's "return" policy and comply with it. Some merchants pay return postage if the box is not opened or you return the item for an exchange.
12. Be careful when buying from merchants outside the U.S.: It is the World Wide Web, after all. Remember merchants might be located in other countries, even if their web site looks like the company is based in the U.S. You may not have the same legal rights, or be able to enforce your rights as easily, outside the U.S.
13. Shipping deadlines: A Federal Trade Commission rule requires merchants who promise delivery within a certain time must reasonably believe ithat promise can be met. If the merchant doesn't specify the time within which an item will be shipped, it must reasonably believe shipment will be made within 30 days from the day the order is placed.
If the merchant can't ship the goods within the stated or 30-day deadline, the company must notify you and give you an opportunity to cancel your order for a full refund. Alternately, the merchant can just cancel your order and refund your money.
Make a note of the promised delivery date and follow-up by phone or email if your purchase hasn't arrived by the deadline. If you continue to experience problems, contact the merchant by certified mail and report the company to the FCIC.
14. Fake invoices: Cybercriminals may send fake invoices and delivery notifications during the holidays that appear to be from Federal Express, UPS or the U.S. Customs Service. You may receive an email asking for credit-card details or require you open an online invoice to receive a package. Once completed, your information is stolen or spyware is automatically installed on their computer.
15. There's no such thing as free money: Con artists like to take advantage of cash-strapped consumers during the holidays by offering personal loans or credit cards for an upfront fee,. You can depend on these scammers to disappear once they have your money. Beware of e-mails offering credit or loans, particularly if you have credit problems.
16. Holiday e-cards: Cyber thieves cash in on consumers who send holiday e-cards to save postage and the expense of printed cards. Holiday-themed PowerPoint attachments appearing to be forwarded by friends are also popular among cybercriminals.
17. Turn your computer off when you’re done: Scammers love people who leave their computers running 24/7 as it allows them to install malware on your machine and then control it remotely while performing cyber crimes. Turning off your computer also saves energy and is worth the bother of rebooting.