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Cyber Monday is big business. Last year, Americans spent over $1.7 billion online the Monday following Thanksgiving, an 18% increase over 2012, the fourth straight year of double digit growth. But anytime people are logging on and spending money, you are going to find scammers trying to take advantage of you. So, bright and early today, I want to give our listeners a few things in mind so they can protect themselves!

Well every year, it seems like there are new things we have to think about, because with every new innovation, the bad guys find a way to take advantage of it. Here are some things to keep an eye on this year: first, beware fake websites. With the growth of cyber Monday, retailers work to get your attention with pop-up ads featuring promotions. The problem is that scammers are very good at making their sites look just like your favorite store’s site. If you want to go to the site, type the address into your browser yourself, do not click on any links. Also, check any smaller retail websites you are shopping on and make sure they have a physical address and phone number listed. They should also have reviews on Yelp, Google, or other reviewing websites.

A second thing to keep an eye out for are fake apps. This scam has seen robust growth over the past few years. As consumers do more and more shopping on their phones and tablets, there has been an explosion of retail apps, and with them, fake apps look very similar. And they are often more dangerous because they gain access to all of the information on your phone once you download them, not just your financial info. Just like websites, you need to look at the reviews and the information provided before downloading any app. When in doubt, don’t download them. Finally, gift card fraud has grown in a big way. Fraudsters copy the codes off of the back of the cards, wait until they are activated, and drain the funds. To avoid having this happen to you, make sure you check pre-loaded cards to ensure the value is intact, and check the back of card to ensure the protective barrier is intact.

Data breaches are certainly a big concern, but there are a few steps you can take to insulate yourself from some of the risks. First, always, always use a credit card, especially when purchasing items online. We have talked about this before when discussing breaches, but it deserves repeating. When you use a credit card, you have much better protection against fraud, and you will not be liable for those charges. If you use a debit card, you are putting the balance in your bank account at risk. Secondly, do not store your card information on retailer websites.

It might seem like you are saving yourself the hassle of not punching in the numbers every time, but it is worth significantly reducing the risk of your information – name and billing address included – falling into the wrong hands. Another very simple way to avoid trouble is to make sure your devices – whether they be a phone, tablet, or computer – are all secure and up-to-date on their software. One of the main reasons companies make software updates is to address bugs and fix security vulnerabilities. If you do this, use websites that begin with https:// and stick to secure, password protected wi-fi, you will be better protected against hackers and other risks.

One last thing, Tom! One of the biggest mistakes that people often make is to let their guard down after all the packages arrive on their doorstep. The problem is that identify theft can be much more long-term. While you may catch a fraudulent charge on your card, you also need to keep track of your credit report. Everyone has access to one free credit report per year from each of the big three firms. Definitely check use one of those free reports to check your credit history in late December or early in the new year. That way, you will catch any things that don’t immediately emerge on your radar as you are in shopping mode!

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