Cyber Shopping Do’s and Don’ts: Outsmart the Bad Guys!

For the excitement of shopping for the best holiday deals without the threat of being pepper sprayed in a mob scene, hop online, of course! But beware: ‘tis the season to be ripped off. Scammers and hackers crawl out of the decorated woodwork to prey on sale-happy holiday shoppers because the odds are so good.

Consider this: between 20 and 40 percent of all retail spending happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and 2011 looks like it may be the biggest season ever. Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday set records — Friday’s online spending grew by 26 percent over last year and Monday’s by 33 percent. That’s a lot of online shopping!

And it’s a lot of opportunity to infect your computer with malware or trick you with bogus websites. And since nothing can take the joy out of the season like a little identity theft, here are our top holiday shopping do’s and don’ts:

Update your software: operating system, browser, anti-virus and anti-spyware
Make sure your firewall is working by using a free firewall test like AuditMyPC
Use great passwords
Make sure you’re on a secure site when entering personal information— the url should begin with “https” (not just “http”)
Pay with a credit card
Surf using a secure browser like Google’s

Don’t shop on unfamiliar sites
Don’t click on ads that sound too good to be true
Don’t use public WiFi to shop
Don’t be fooled by emails asking you to verify personal information or reconfirm an order — retailers don’t do this but if you’re concerned, navigate to the website through your browser (not the email) and call the number listed
Don’t wait until the end of the month to check your bank and credit card statements — go online and make sure you recognize all the charges

And if you want to know when some electronics prices REALLY hit rock bottom, check out this graphic from Consumer Reports.