Holiday Shopping Tips for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Beyond

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It's arrived... the official start to the holiday shopping season is here. Stores have been revealing their big-ticket Black Friday deals, and online shopping outlets are already running specials in the lead-up to major Cyber Monday sales.  Giveaways and deep discounts abound, but in the shopping frenzy it's all too easy to forget that not everyone who hits the stores will be looking for a Furby or a Wii U.

Identity thieves often enjoy the close contact and long lines that are common on Black Friday because it presents multiple opportunities to steal information such as credit card numbers and card PINs.  Shopping online won't necessarily protect you, either; fake websites and malware programs that log your keystrokes can steal your credit card information just as easily as a stranger who manages to take a picture of your card with a smartphone.

To help you stay safe when shopping for that perfect holiday gift, here are a few quick things that you should keep in mind on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and beyond.

Black Friday:  

• Pay attention to what's going on around you.  If you're in a crowded store on Black Friday you might not notice someone standing close to you or even bumping into you, but that distraction makes it easier for a pickpocket to grab your wallet or an identity thief to watch you enter your PIN.
• Pay with cash when possible to prevent credit or debit card numbers from being stolen.  If you have to pay with a card, make sure that you hold it so that your fingers cover your name and the card number as you swipe it.
• Use your body to block your PIN from view.  Don't be afraid to cover the keypad with your free hand or step in close so that your torso is between the keypad and the next person in line.
• Check your account activity after you're finished shopping.  Keep track of exactly how much you spend and where you spend it and compare it to your credit or debit card charges until all of your purchases are accounted for.  Report any unauthorized or suspicious authorizations to your card issuer immediately. Find additional tips here...

Cyber Monday & Online Security Tips: 
• Scan your computer with both an antivirus program and anti-malware software before shopping.  Make sure that both programs are up-to-date to ensure that the latest virus, spyware and malware definitions have been installed.
• Shop websites that you know., and a number of other major shopping portals offer Cyber Monday sales and have millions of customers to attest for their legitimacy.
• Don't fall for spam.  Cyber-criminals may try to lure you to spoof sites or other fraudulent websites by sending out emails offering you amazing deals, but these messages will either direct you to fake storefronts, redirect you to malware-filled pages or try to convince you that they need your login information for legitimate shopping websites.
• Check the address bar before you make a purchase.  Though it only takes a moment, it's all too easy to forget to make sure that you're on the site you think you're on and that you have a secure connection to the site.  If the URL looks suspicious or you don't see a secure connection icon, leave the site and manually type the URL for the website you thought you were buying from.  If you were legitimately on the site, any items you were about to purchase will still be in your shopping cart. Find additional tips here.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that the only dangers out there occur on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, either.  Though the crowds will be biggest on these days, it's important that you do your best to keep yourself safe during the entire holiday shopping season.  Identity thieves and other criminals will grow particularly active during this busy holiday shopping season, so be careful. Don't let a Grinch steal your time, smartphone, identity, cash or holiday cheer --not during what should be one of the happiest times of the year!



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