Whether or not it's actually the biggest online shopping day of the year, Cyber Monday has become somewhat ubiquitous in any discussion of holiday shopping. Although the concept was born in a marketing meeting and didn't happen organically, many retailers use the Monday after Thanksgiving to offer special online-only deals, including the brass ring for many shoppers -- free shipping!
Predictions vary on just how many people will take part in Cyber Monday shopping this year. A Consumer Reports survey puts the number at 34 percent, while PriceGrabber says 41 percent. But just as important is how people will shop. And that applies any day of the year, not just on Cyber Monday.
Whether it's on a computer at work or at home, on a laptop or tablet in a public place, or by smartphone, shoppers may be putting their credit card numbers and other personal information at risk.
HLN Money Expert Clark Howard offers these steps to take before you start cyber-shopping.
- Update your anti-virus software. If your computer or mobile device isn't protected, it's like going to the mall and leaving the front door of your house wide open. Fortunately, there are several free products that can keep your computer safe from thieves.
- Stay away from public Wi-Fi. It may be tempting to spend a few hours shopping online at a coffee shop or other such establishment, but unsecured networks are an invitation for identity thieves to steal your account information.
- Credit, not debit. Using a debit card can make it easier to stick to your budget, and we all want to avoid the mid-January "hangover" when that holiday credit card bill arrives. But credit cards offer protections against fraud that debit cards don't.
- Many happy returns? This one is a bit less serious than identity theft, but you should know a retailer's online return policy before you buy anything. It may differ from how you can return items at a physical store.