5 Cyber Monday safe shopping tips

Take precautions to protect yourself online

By J. Scott Wilson, Staff writer
Headline Goes Here carl dwyer/SXC

Cyber Monday is upon us, and while it's true that it's by and large a manufactured event designed to help part you from as much of your holiday cash as possible, the forces of competition mean there will be some screamingly great deals, too.

However, there will be other forces at work as well: the forces of evil!

These no-goodniks seek to part you from your personal information, your credit card numbers and what's left of your post-Black Friday bank balance by means most foul. Faster than a speeding bullet, you'll find your identity being used to buy beans in Bangkok and purchase peonies in Peoria.

How can you avoid becoming a victim of this holiday chicanery? Read on, citizens, and we'll steer you through the hacker minefields and into the safely SSL-encrypted shores of commerce ...

No. 5: Beware the fake WiFi hot spot

Wi-Fi has made it possible for those on the go to get their retail therapy from millions of locations. You can sip your coffee and shop for shoes or eat a hoagie and hunt for handbags.

Thanks to the magic of mobile hot spots, however, a hacker could be sitting at the next table over masquerading as the host of the network wherever you are.

When you search for your wireless access point, be sure the name of the network you hook up to is the one hosted by the business. There's often a sign posted or a helpful clerk -- yes, they still exist -- who can clue you in.

Hook up to a hacker's hot spot and you'll soon find yourself in deep trouble, but not as bad off as if you do the next thing on our list ...

No. 4: Protect your home wireless network

You may never take your laptop out of your house. You may never sit at Starbucks and do your shopping. But it's a safe bet that at some point you'll have a wireless network in your home.

Many gaming systems require one to use their online features, and the ability to catch up on your work while sitting on the front porch in the sunshine is another great benefit.

However, be sure you make use of the most advanced security protocols offered by the company that makes your server or your home network will be an open book for anyone wanting to park on the street and "borrow" your bandwidth. This can be harmless, or it can be the start of wholesale identity theft.

That's making it easy for the bad guys, but you can actually make it tougher by following our next tip ...

No. 3: Pick one card for online shopping

If you're anything like most Americans, you've got several major credit cards floating around in your wallet. Budgets are tight this time of year, and you might well find yourself splitting up your shopping among several different cards.

For your online shopping, try very hard to use the same card every time. Your safest bet is to have a card that you use only for online purchases and nothing else.

Be sure it's one that offers you online account access so you can check your statement very frequently. Keep a written log of what you buy, including the site, amount and delivery date.

Compare what you've written with what shows up on your statement, and call your credit card company immediately if you see any discrepancies.

So now you've got the right card; just make sure you're using it at the right place ...

No. 2: Avoid phishy sites

Ever get an e-mail promising a deal that sounds to good to be true? Say you've been hunting for a certain Wii game for weeks, and suddenly you get a message that it's available on Amazon or another site for half what you'd expected.

The e-mail states that quantities are limited, and urges you to hurry, so you whip out your credit card and click away, sparks flying from your fingertips as you enter your order.

Congratulations! You've been scammed!

That e-mail link took you to a lookalike site operated by a hacker. He didn't even have to work to get your credit card information -- you handed it to him on a silver platter. By the time you realized your shipment's not coming, it's already too late.

The solution is simple: Only buy from trusted websites and don't ever click on e-mail offers unless you can verify they came from respected e-tailers.

No. 1: Don't let packages sit on doorstep

Even if you make sure you shop securely and protect your personal information, you can lose your holiday cheer in a hurry if your packages disappear from your doorstep before you get home.

This time of year, enterprising miscreants drive through neighborhoods, often in fake service trucks or vans, looking for packages left at doors.

One trip to the door with a bulky toolbox and your shipment is gone. If there's a date range on your shipment rather than a specific day, you may not even be aware your goods are missing until well after they're gone and resold.

If you have a neighbor who's home during the day (and doesn't mind helping), have your packages delivered there. If you have an understanding boss, have your stuff dropped at work. Whatever you do, make sure you don't gift-wrap your holiday packages for passing thieves.

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