Protect Yourself From Fraud on Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday -- launched in 2005 as a way for online retailers to get a share of the massive Black Friday spending spree -- is expected to represent nearly $2 billion in sales this year.

But shoppers aren't the only ones looking for a big score. Cyber Monday's online focus makes it irresistible for fraudsters, too.

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent yourself from falling prey to Cyber Monday (and any day) scams.

Prevention is the best medicine: Make sure your apps and browsers are up to date (developers are constantly improving security features in response to new threats), and consider comprehensive virus protection that covers PCs, Macs, and mobile devices, such as McAfee's All-Access Package, which won top marks from PC magazine.

Shop at home: As convenient as public Wi-Fi networks are, this is not a good time of year to take advantage of them. The Center for Internet Security says, "Criminals may be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other sensitive information." Use secured networks at your home or office to shop to prevent theft.

CIS also recommends turning off Bluetooth and disabling NFC capabilities to prevent credit card numbers and other financial data from being intercepted by crooks. 

Stick with reputable sites: No matter how good the deal, resist the temptation to click on links (especially in email or via text message) from unfamiliar businesses. The FBI also recommends steering clear of foreign sites, which it says often aren't subject to U.S. laws. If you get an offer from a familiar merchant that seems too good to be true, go to its site directly by typing the address into your browser and look for the deal there rather than clicking a link.

If you have any concerns about a site you're considering purchasing from, check with the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission, or search the name of the site and the words "fraud" and "scam" to see if others have reported issues.

Be wary of apps: Mobile apps are a growing source of fraud. To keep your device safe, check out any apps you're considering carefully before downloading. Read the reviews on the iTunes or Google Play stores and check out the developer's site to make sure they're legit.

Also be on the lookout for unusual text messages, Facebook messages, and Twitter activity. Phishing scams are up 87% worldwide this year, according to Kaspersky Lab, and thieves like to use social media to pass along fraudulent links because their targets think they're getting the message from someone they know.

Go virtual: Many credit card companies, including Citibank and Bank of America, offer "virtual" account numbers to use when shopping online. Each program works slightly differently; Citi's, for example, allows you to download a tool that will generate a new number anytime you want to place an order. Check with your card issuer to see if it offers this option.

There is one major downside of virtual cards: They don't work for transactions that require you to show your physical card. For instance, if you make a purchase online and then try to return it to a physical store, the card numbers won't match and the retailer will most likely refuse to issue the refund. You may have to settle for a store credit instead.

Shopping the sales is fun, and can mean mega-savings, too. Just make sure you're not inadvertently giving a crook a big holiday windfall as well.

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