Online tips for Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday

Consumer Reports Holiday Headstart

As you troll the Internet for holiday deals this weekend, on so-called CyberMonday, and beyond, be on the lookout for nasty cybercriminals who can empty your wallet faster than a successful holiday shopping trip.

(For help with that trip, check out our guide to Black Friday deals and shopping advice.)

If ever there was a time to play to your heartstrings, it’s the holiday season. Don’t fall for those fake charity pleas that pop up in your e-mail.

Beware of any e-mail that asks for financial information, passwords, or other personal data. Some common phonies have pretended to come from PayPal, eBay, the Better Business Bureau, and the IRS.

Be careful what you click on when searching for popular trends or products. Security software company F-Secure provided a list of search terms it predicts will be popular with cybercriminals this season: The video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2"; Michael Jackson; the Flip UltraHD camcorder; the iPod; the Wii; and Chuck My Talking Truck from Playskool.

Don’t be fooled into joining the type of "member rewards clubs" we talked about in an earlier blog post about an online shopping scam that cost consumers $1.4 billion, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

You’ll probably run into deals that seem too good to be true from retailers you’re not familiar with. Check our advice on choosing a retailer, and our Ratings of places to buy major electronics items and computers (available to subscribers). If you’re suspicious, skip it, or at least check the Better Business Bureau’s online reports. Make sure the BBB’s report on an online company has a physical address and phone number. Review shipping, return, and restocking policies.

There are also easy steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Enter your credit card information only on Web sites that are secure. Look for a lock icon in the bar at the bottom of your browser (not on the actual browser page), and make sure the URL is an https:// site.
  • Use a single credit card for all your online purchases, or get a "virtual" one-time-only card from your credit-card company.
  • Create secure passwords, and don’t use the same one on every site. To make them easier to remember, use the first letters of a favorite song or phrase, then add a simple identifier unique to each Web site, advises Mark Risher, Yahoo’s senior director of product development Yahoo Mail’s "spam czar." If possible, throw in a number or two as well.