The Holiday is No Longer Just About the Bird

So, Thanksgiving is right around he corner and this year we can look forward to getting together with those we love in person, unlike last year. Yes, we still need to take all the precautions we're aware of, but at least things are looking a bit more like normal. Well, what passes for normal nowadays, of course.

Once the Thanksgiving festivities are over, we all get to take part in a relatively new holiday (if you can call it that). Actually, we can consider it a two-day holiday. Of course, I'm referring to Black Friday and its even newer close cousin, Cyber Monday.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, normally the following day, has become the day we all flood the stores in search of what we believe to be incredible deals on everything on our list. Traditionally, this is the day when, after retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November), they would make their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. That was the traditional start of Black Friday but you can be sure it's now just a way to sell you more stuff.

It didn't take long to add one more day to the festive event: Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and, for the most part, is the unofficial ecommerce version of Black Friday. While it's very convenient to shop from the comfort of your home...and the perceived safety it provides...there are some things to think about when shopping online to keep your personal financial security safe.

While shopping online, whether on Cyber Monday or any other time of the year, make sure you keep some things in mind:

1. Shop with the names you know.
You can be fairly sure that shopping with companies you already know are legit, whether the companies are large or small. Besides the usual large e-commerce-centric companies, most brick-and-mortar stores now have their own online shops. This includes many of the local stores in your area. Try sticking with those companies.

2. Only trust secure websites.
Look at the site's website address. At the beginning of the address, look for either a lock icon or the letters "https" (as opposed to just "http"). That "s" signifies the site is utilizing a secure socket layer (SSL). You may need to click on the address to make the "https" show up. In short, that lets you know, first hand, that website can prove it is a secure place to do business.

3. Use strong passwords.
If you open an account with a reputable online shopping outlet, you will be required to create a login to enter the site's control panel to administer your account. When choosing a password, make sure it's secure. Avoid common names or words that are easy to guess. What makes for a secure password? Choose as long a word as possible with a combination of capital and lower case letters, as well as numbers and special characters. It's understandable to try to choose an easy to remember password instead but it cannot be stated enough what kind of damage a malicious actor can do to your pesonal finances if he or she can get into your account. Make it safe and please avoid keeping a copy of your password where a crook can steal it, like a wallet, purse or unlocked cell phone.

4. Become street smart regarding shopping scams.
Scams are everywhere. Beware of deals that just seem too good to be true, especially if they come by way of emails. Malicious actors can create fake websites that are designed to collect private information from the unaware shopper, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

5. Try to avoid shopping through public Wi-Fi.
Public Wi-Fi locations may be convenient but are often unencrypted and unsecured. This can leave you vulnerable to anyone who can grab personal information from your digital device by just digitally listening in. If shopping online, it's best to wait until you get home and shop from there. Just make sure your own personal Wi-Fi or internet service is password protected first!

6. After you get done shopping.
Even after an online shopping spree is over, you should keep an eye on your bank or credit card accounts to make sure everything stays secure. Pay attention to listed purchased items and services within statements. In the event something doesn't look right, contact your financial institution as soon as possible.

All of these things are, granted, the result of common sense. But even the most digitally streetwise shopper can fall for a scam if he or she leaves their guard down. It can happen to the best of us, so stay vigilant.

And, of course, enjoy Thanksgiving, as well as the relatively new shopping holidays. This means staying safe, both both personally and digitally.