A member asked us great question: "I'm worried about Cyber Monday scams...should I avoid?" The answer is no, you do not need to avoid Cyber Monday shopping to stay safe and avoid scams. As long as you're cautious and knowledgeable of the scams out there, Cyber Monday can offer you large holiday shopping discounts...even beyond deals you can get in-stores. The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall), "stores put many of their best deals on their websites."
So, how can you stay safe when shopping on Cyber Monday?
Make sure the store website is secure
The very first thing when shopping on a site is to make sure it is secure. This means all data and transactions between your computer and their server are encrypted. You can tell if the site is secure by looking in for the lock icon next to the website address:
If you don't see the lock symbol, avoid shopping at that site.
Shop at trustworthy companies and stores you know
Everyone wants a great deal, but sometimes those deals are too good to be true. While you might be able to find a cheaper iPad by searching Google, we suggest sticking with the stores you know. Target, Walmart, Best Buy, or Amazon are trustworthy companies. However, when shopping on these sites, be sure what you're buying is shipped and sold by the store and not a 3rd-party, unless you trust that 3rd party. For example, on Amazon, look for:
if from a 3rd-party site.
Update your software or virus software
Be sure to have the latest software on your iPhone, Android, Windows, or Mac. The latest software helps protect you against malicious attacks. If you use virus software, update that too.
Use unique passwords at every website
Don't use the same password at every website, and certainly not the same password you use for your banking or financial sites. If a site you shop at gets hacked, you don't want the thieves to also have access to your money!
While unique passwords can be hard to manage (or think of), you can simplify things with a password manager that both securely stores your credentials for each site and recommends a secure password. Our favorites are 1Password (paid) and Dashlane (free, mostly).
Avoid shopping on free Wi-Fi
Yes, the free Wi-Fi in Starbucks or the bookstore is great, but is also is insecure. There is an attack called the man-in-the-middle and it basically allows someone to intercept your data on public Wi-Fi. If you're remote and need an internet connection, it is better to connect to your mobile phone and use the LTE connection.
Don’t use your debit card for online shopping
There are generally fewer identity protections for your debit card compared with a credit card. A credit card makes it easier to dispute changes and get your money back. Also, as an added bonus, some credit cards extend the item's warranty.
Don't click on the links sent to your email
You get an email from Best Buy or Walmart or Amazon promoting a great deal with a link to click...don't click the link. The email could be from a fraudulent sender, so while it takes a few minutes more, it is better to go directly to the website and search for the promoted item.
Products especially designed for Cyber Monday
This is less a scam and more a misdirection from the legitimate company. Have you ever gone to an outlet mall and noticed some items are "made for the outlet"? In other words, some stores create items exclusively sold at their outlet location, and these items are usually (but not always) cheaper and of lower quality compared with the regular store version.
Some online stores take the same approach and create Black Friday or Cyber Monday specials. However, these might be the same quality as the regular items.
Do you need the top model
Often the greatest sale is with the top model or most expensive item. The top of the line TV might be 50% off, but the one or two tier lower model at 20% off is overall cheaper and meets all your needs (remember the 3D TV everyone had to have?). Don't be wowed by the percentage off, but rather by what you get for the price you pay.
Sales that always exist
You see that amazing Weber grill for 30% off, just for Cyber Monday...you need to take advantage of this deal before it goes away, right? Well, little did you know the grill always is 30%. It was 30% off last year and will probably still be 30% off a year from now. Our favorite site to check the history of prices (at Amazon) is CamelCamelCamel. There you can not only see the history, but also get alerted when new deals happen.