5 Tips to Keep You Cyber-Safe this Buying Season

Black Friday and Cyber Monday may mark the high points of the holiday shopping season, but they are by no means the end of it. In a still struggling economy, with everyone searching for value, consumers will encounter technology deals that might seem too good to be true.

As reported by the Dow Jones newswires, online shopping may well top $1 billion dollars on a single day this year. With more and more consumers willing to spend money online, sales will rise, but so will the risk of exposure to some sort of scam or cyber-crime right alongside those fabulous deals.

So, how can you avoid being taken advantage of?

There are many ways to keep yourself, your privacy, and your money safe this holiday season. But, as the countdown to Christmas grows shorter, many of us abandon our common sense in the desperate pursuit of that one great gift or that one fantastic deal.

Therein lies the problem. The number one way to guard against online scams is to employ some common sense.

For example, many of us will go to extreme lengths to save a few dollars. This often includes venturing off the ‘beaten path' and looking outside the major retailers on online auction or classified sites such as E-Bay or Craigslist, which the Better Business Bureau has cautioned against. While many of the deals offered on such sites are perfectly legitimate, the likelihood of stumbling into a scam is far greater on these sorts of sites.

Tip #1 -- If a deal seems too great, it probably is, especially if it's from an individual user or a ‘minor' retailer. Be suspicious of any deal or sale that you can't believe is real. Maybe you've found the best buy of the season, but it's more likely that you've stumbled into a scam set up to defraud you and steal your money or information.

It's also important to remember that anyone you do business with online knows more about Internet commerce -- and its dangers -- than you do.

An excellent tip #2 is to do some research about any online vendor you're considering making a purchase from. Some vendors believe quality customer service goes hand in hand with turning a profit. Others, however, such as Vitaly Borker, seem to value their bottom line over the satisfaction of their customers.

As reported in the New York Times and on Cnet.com, Borker took advantage of loopholes in credit card policies to refuse refunds and threaten customers. Only when he was in danger of being cut off by Visa and MasterCard did Borker begin meeting his customer's needs.

Some simple research might have tipped customers off that Borker's website was one to be avoided.

As heinous as Borker's actions may seem, they do bring to light tip #3 for the online shopper: understand your credit cards. Borker and other merchants like him, were able to take advantage of customers because of the rules set up by the credit cards those customers use.

With credit card purchases being the dominant form of online shopping, it's vital that consumers know the policies of the cards they use and what recourse they have should those policies be abused.

Tip #4 -- Consumers would also be wise to investigate other forms of payment, such as PayPal or Bill Me Later, a PayPal service. While alternative methods may not offer the convenience of credit cards, they may provide more security against potential scams and those who know how to abuse the system.

Regardless of where and when you shop online, tip #5 applies: be cautious. The Internet can be a dangerous place at the best of times. During the often stressful and expensive holiday season the dangers increase exponentially.

Be wary every time you shop online and help to make sure this time remains a time of giving, and not of taking.

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