The holiday hype has arrived, with an upcoming parade of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. As an online shopping promotion, Cyber Monday was created in 2005 by Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation. Nearly 85 million online shoppers hit virtual checkout lines on Cyber Monday in 2008. But not every deal is a good bargain, according to government and industry experts. Here are shopping and security guidelines for Cyber Monday or any day. Sharon Harvey Rosenberg, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers
Be a deal hunter
Reduce checkout costs by using promotional codes and online coupons. Promotional Codes.com, CouponWinner.com and other Web sites offer thousands of free online coupons and promotional codes that can be used at online and traditional stores. CyberMonday.com, a Web site affiliated with the National Retail Federation, features a rundown of online deals for the holiday season. "Stack" or combine coupons, promotions and free shipping offers, said Andrea Woroch, a spokeswoman for PromotionalCodes.com.
Check out the store
Research a vendor's reputation, return policy and privacy statement before making a purchase.
"If a 5 percent discount costs you your identity, your cash or hours of phone calls with your credit card company, then you've been fleeced," said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance , or NCSA. "It's important to know who you're doing business with online. Type the business name and the word 'review' into your favorite search engine. If unfavorable or no reviews pop up, buyer beware." Hold onto receipts, product descriptions, shipping information and other documents, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Defensive shopping requires up-to-date firewall, antispyware and antivirus software, according to the NCSA. Review security settings, which should be set to medium security levels at minimum. Don't send financial information — Social Security numbers, bank account information or credit card details — by e-mail.
Watch for fakes
Bogus or malicious companies operate sites with names or logos that resemble popular or reputable names. Independently verify the identity and Web address of online vendors, security experts recommend. Also look for a brick-and-mortar street address and telephone number. That contact information can be used for verification and for problem-solving if you run into trouble with the product or shipping.
The FTC provides additional information about cyber security. These resources include www.staysafeonline.org, www.uscert.gov and www.onguardonline.gov.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money" and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's "10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget."