It’s Cyber-Monday, the biggest on-line shopping day of the year, and that means it’s time for Cyber-Monday scams. And there are a lot of them this year. Online shopping can be safe but you have to be careful where and how you shop. It’s not really that much different from safe shopping at a physical store or over the phone. Be suspicious.

  • When shopping online, type the merchant’s URL in by hand instead of following any “convenient” link in an email or instant message. Those links can be spoofed in a phishing attack which looks like legitimate advertising.
  • Look for the prefix https in the address line. This indicates that you are on an encrypted connection to the merchant’s website. You can also look for the little yellow padlock icon in the bottom right of the browser. Be careful, however. Sophisticated hackers can spoof these signs
  • Read the site’s privacy policy carefully and use common sense about the offer. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you don’t trust the company to protect your personal information, shop somewhere else.
  • Make sure your own protections (anti-virus, firewall, patches) are up-to-date and running.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. If your credit card is stolen or the number misused, federal law limits your liability to $50 (as long as you comply with the notification requirements). If a debit card number is compromised, you could lose the entire amount in the account to which the debit card is linked.
  • Check your statement carefully for charges you don’t recognize. Report any anomalies to your bank and report a lost or stolen card immediately.
  • Consider keeping a separate credit card with a low credit limit just for internet purchases.

And in the theme of Cyber-Monday scams, here’s one that isn’t.

There are allegations online that a Facebook-based promotion being run by Westfield, the Australian mall company. They are letting Australian customers sign up for a lottery for a $10,000 gift card in exchange for all kinds of semi-confidential information (basically the same information you’d give up for a discount card, though) and the inclusion of a Facebook app to your account. Many people have accused the Facebook app of being virus-infected and/or the sign-up of being a phish. It actually checks out, though. Despite the skepticism (which I consider entirely appropriate and healthy in our current online environment), the mall’s promotion has been confirmed. has a good writeup describing their confirmation of the promotion.

Whether you shop with the Westfield mall is up to you. Take a few minutes to research any such offer and company before you sign up, though. Being suspicious of an offer that seems too good to be true is an excellent habit to build.

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