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Shop Safely on Cyber Monday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holiday season is upon us, and judging by the fact that stores are opening for Black Friday shopping on Thursday (!), it appears that retailers are ready for the gift-buying rush. Cyber Monday should also be a boon for stores and shoppers alike, with experts predicting sales topping the $2 billion mark. Unfortunately with all the folks rushing to the web for a bargain, cyber criminals won’t be far behind trying to take advantage of the chaos. Here are a few tips you can use to try to stay safe while shopping online.

Be on the lookout for phishing scams: The easiest way for someone with bad intentions to take advantage of you is to get you to do the dirty work for them. Sure, that offer from what appears to be Amazon or Walmart for a $99 iPad Air might seem too good to pass up, but you know what they say about something that looks too good to be true, right? Steer clear of emails claiming “amazing” discounts, no matter who sent them, and it’s always a good idea NOT to click on any links. We all know that there are some folk that like to prey on your sympathies this time of year, so do your research before donating to any charities as well. If you insist on checking, copy and paste the link in your browser. Clicking the link could send you to a bogus website where someone is just waiting to steal your credit card info, or it could infect your computer with a virus. Also, make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date.

Don’t do any shopping over public Wi-Fi: While it might be tempting to try to knock some of those names off your gift list while sipping a latte at Starbucks, try to resist doing any shopping online using public Wi-Fi. It’s much easier than you think to be hacked, and even easier for someone to steal your info simply by looking over your shoulder. If you absolutely have to use public Wi-Fi, consider setting up a virtual private network (VPN) for added security. Even if you’re shopping at home, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi password, and always look for ‘https’ in the URL on the payment page of any website.

Beware of Fakes: Fake reviews and fake merchandise are a real risk online. Even on well-known sites like Amazon, counterfeit products are hard to detect and control from third-party sellers. If products are being sold at deep discounts from regular retail, that is usually a red flag. The best defense against knock-offs is to shop with trusted sites (for example, buying your iPad Air from apple.com instead of eBay). When checking user reviews to research your purchase in advance, look out for overly emotional language and exclamation points. Very short reviews (one or two sentences) could also be a sign of a fake. And check to see if the review is linked to an actual user profile or social media account.

Online shopping is a fast, easy, and convenient way to get a lot of shopping done from the comfort of wherever you are. But there are risks, and they always seem to ratchet up a notch during the holiday season. Stay alert and stay safe! Happy Holidays!

Follow tech-life expert Stephanie Humphrey on Twitter.