'Tis the season to be jolly -- but not if a cyber Grinch scams you.
As consumers across the country continue on Cyber Monday the online shopping fest begun on Black Friday, clicking the best deals shouldn't be the only priority: It's just as important for shoppers to keep a watchful eye out for cyber-scammers and hackers.
Whether you're behind a computer or using your mobile phone, there are a few things every holiday customer should avoid.
Untrustworthy websites and pop-up screens
It's always best to use a major retail company’s official webpage (such as BestBuy.com or Target.com) instead of using other online vendors you may not be familiar with or don't know the reputation of. Make sure you type in the retailer’s web address directly into the browser and start it with https:// to ensure that the site is secured.
If you click on a pop-up site to purchase an enticing gift, you could be handing out your personal information to an awaiting cyberthief. John Gable, head of consumer products for Internet security company Check Point Software Technologies, said most security software programs will alert you before going to a known dangerous site.
"Some give you an alert next to the link, others pop-up an alert before you get to the dangerous page," Gable told FoxNews.com.
"Consumers should make sure this feature is available and turned on before shopping online this holiday season," he advised.
Too good to be true deals
Can't believe the latest Apple iPad is on sale for $19.99? That's because it probably isn't.
As shoppers are on the lookout for the best online deals, fraudsters will hone in. The most popular gifts of the season will likely be targeted by cyber criminals looking to link them to malicious sites that could spread viruses or steal their information.
F-Secure, a leading anti-virus and intrusion company put out an annual list of the most "dangerous" holiday gifts online scammers will target. The three hottest products to top the list this year: the Apple iPhone 4S; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; and the game Angry Birds: Knock on Wood.
“Treat your online shopping like you would real-world shopping," Hemanshu Nigam, founder of online security and safety firm, SSP Blue told FoxNews.com. "If you’re walking down a street and think of avoiding a store because it just doesn’t seem right … you wouldn’t go in. Take that same feeling onto the Internet. If the online store doesn’t ‘feel’ right, don’t purchase from it."
Fake online charities
The spirit of the holidays tends to put people in giving moods, but online shoppers beware -- the holiday Grinch can still be lurking out there.
To avoid online charity scams, do your research and make sure that you're giving to a legitimate foundation. There are several Internet resources like the Federal Trade Commission's website or the charities and donors section of the Better Business Bureau's website, which has a directory of national accredited charities.
Don't hand out your financial information to solicitors who collect contributions. Make your donation by check and payable directly to the charity.
Without taking these cautionary steps, a savvy scammer could get away not only with your donation but also your personal information that could lead to identity theft.
"Security is quickly becoming less about making your computer bulletproof from hackers, but more about the individual consumer taking an active role in the way their personal information is used," William McCusker, a representative from the company Own Your Info, told FoxNews.com.
Dangerous Mobile Applications:
Your computer isn't the only target for cyber criminals this holiday season. According to McAfee’s Threats Report, the volume of new malware targeting mobile phones increased 46 percent in 2010.
Consumers should be cautious about downloading certain holiday shopping applications this year. Although they may seem like pocket-sized Santa’s helpers, they could be malicious and transmit your phones data.
One of the best ways to prevent a hacker from stealing your personal information is to install a mobile security product that offers a firewall to protect your personal details on your phone.
Holiday screensavers and e-cards can also be masked viruses so be sure you download them from official app stores like Android Market and iTunes. You should also skim through the user reviews to catch any ratings that sound lousy or fixed.