Staying Safe on Cyber Monday - Protecting Yourself from Scams and Identity Theft

Almost everyone has reason to be excited about this coming weekend, not just because it's Thanksgiving in the United States but because, for retailers that sell in the U.S., it's the kick-off of the Christmas selling season. Pretty much anyone who shops is aware of that Friday is known as Black Friday, and just about everyone who shops online knows that Monday is Cyber Monday. Even in these harder economic times, retailers everywhere are gearing up for their busiest weekend of the year. According to the National Retail Association, last year, an estimated 72 million people in the United States alone shopped online on Cyber Monday, which obviously makes retailers stand up and take notice.

However, retailers are not the only ones looking to take advantage of that frenzy. This post is inspired by a couple articles I came across last week, whose recommendations I felt compelled to share with our community here at With all those online transactions going on, there is also an unprecedented opportunity for identity thieves and fraudsters. One of the articles quotes a Federal Trade Commission report saying that last year consumers reported losses from identity theft and fraud of more than $1.2 billion. Click on either of the following links to open the articles in a new window.

Low Prices, High Identity Theft on Black Friday

Black Friday, Cyber Monday Breeding Grounds for Identity Thieves

Both of these articles share some excellent tips for keeping both your mall-going and your online self safe while still enjoying the great discounts available this weekend, and I highly recommend reading both of them. Recognizing that some AnnTheGran users may have a specific set of concerns, I've chosen what I think are the best online tips, and elaborated on them below:

No Phishing Allowed - Watch out for "phishing" scams, or any unsolicited e-mail. Phishing is when crooks send you e-mails that look to be from legitimate companies, requesting that you provide them with personal information. These often take the form of letters from a bank or a major Internet service provider such as Google, because the crooks know that these are established brand names that recipients will recognize and probably open. Common wisdom for street-proofing kids is that, if they are in trouble and there is an absolute need for help from a stranger, the child should choose the stranger, not the other way around. The same goes for online behaviour. Suspect anyone who "chooses" you - it should be you doing the choosing. If you see something that you think may be legitimate but about which you are unsure, don't answer or click anything in the e-mail. Find the company's web site or, better yet, telephone number, and contact them that way.

Password Protection - Be careful with your passwords - Always make sure passwords use a combination of letters, numbers, and other characters. Also, don’t use the same password for all of your online endeavors! This is very insecure and could allow people you don’t want accessing other aspects of your online life. Instead, try using a system. For example, create five or six master passwords that all relate to each other, like names of former cars and kids’ birthdays (mustang0318, pacer1223). These are hard to guess for others, but they mean something to you, and you know that if it isn’t one for that particular site, then it has to be one of a limited set. Many people find it helpful to store all their passwords in a safe place. A number of people I know use a little recipe box. If you want to store them in a file on your computer, that’s fine, but make sure you don’t name the file “Passwords”, in case anyone ever gets into your computer and searches for the word “password”. Call it “TheSecret” or something fun and don’t use the words “username” or “password” in the file (use “unam” and “pw” or something).

Information is Golden - Your personal information is like gold - keep it safe. Never email your personal information - e-mails are not secure enough for sending financial or personal information. Did you know that the CAN-SPAM Act, the law that regulates commercial e-mail, requires that all commercial emails sent must include a "valid physical postal address of the sender." Check for that, or check the web site for a contact phone number. Even when there is a contact phone number, call it and check it. Be very careful who you give your credit card information to. I know that we have to jump through hoops for security – we’re not allowed to store or even see any credit card information (it all gets encrypted) and we are strictly forbidden to share anyone’s private information, whether they have bought from us or not. Any reputable e-commerce site is subject to the same regulations. Those horror stories that make the news are almost always unscrupulous operators running fly-by-night sites, so look for sites that have been in business for a good long time and who aren’t afraid to tell you how their security and information systems work. Better yet, ask a friend or an independent source such as a message board whether their experience with the site has been good.

The Trust Trap - Don't fall into the "trust trap". A common strategy among fraudsters is to use good information to establish a relationship of trust with a reader, in order to "set up" the scam. Every good salesperson knows that it's a good idea to give a little something to create an obligation on the part of the receiver to somehow respond. This is fine, but remember that it's ok to take the information without buying anything. It is easy to get good (and bad) information on the Internet - just because someone has taken the trouble to compile it, it doesn't mean you owe them your business. They still need to earn it the old-fasioned way - with good customer service and openness in doing business.


If you have any specific questions about anything I haven't covered here, please feel free to post a comment and I'll try to answer it as best I can. Also, if you know someone who does a lot of online shopping and might benefit from this information, please feel free to pass it on.

And, of course, with all this information I've given you, if you do indeed feel an obligation to give something back, and you're sure I'm not setting a "trust trap", I wouldn't object to you shopping with us this weekend Wink. We do have some great deals!


Comments (4) -

Thanks for this timely reminder that not all men (and women) are of good cheer.

I do a lot of shopping on the Internet and watch for those 'contact phone numbers.'  What a good idea for checking on a site that looks very real, but might not be.



That was a great blog.  I hope everyone is reading it.  I always feel that the main thing to use when shopping anywhere is common sense.  Also, think defensively, in other words, think like a thief and maybe you can outsmart the thiefs by being a few steps ahead of them so they won't get to you.  

Stitches . .


Thanks for the tips.  Wishing you a great Holiday Season.  Sandy

Sorry, guys, I missed these comments, as I (yes, even I, the tech guru) have been suffering from some e-mail problems.

Thanks, Pat. We've been under attack for a nasty bunch of bad guys for a few weeks now and I just wanted to do my part to strike back at them. The more we all know about these scams, the easier it will be to avoid them.

LaRue - Yes, think defensively, great way of putting it. If assuming that others may not be so well-intentioned is "defensive driving" when you do it in a car, I think it's great advice that "defensive surfing" on the Internet is just as important.

Sandy - Great to hear from you on here! How's that machine working for you? You could do a whole blog yourself on your luck with machines...hope we see you down at Community Circle again in March.

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