Before you know it, Cyber Monday (December 2nd) will be here, and the online shopping frenzy will begin! Though comparing prices, tracking sales, and avoiding crowds makes it convenient and thrifty to shop online, being swindled while shopping for presents online is a surefire way to make the holiday season not so bright. Cyber-thieves are on the prowl trying to steal your vital information, identity, and money, but not to worry—a few simple precautions can make sure you stay protected and your holiday stays happy. Here are 13 ways to avoid online shopping pitfalls:

1. Security is key

Secure your computer, tablet, or mobile device with updated antivirus software, firewalls, apps, and browser security settings. Look for "shttp" or "https" (the "s" stands for "secure") on the website's address bar to ensure that the webpage is encrypted and your information is protected. Also, look for the small padlock icon on the lower right corner of the screen.

2. Buy from reputable sites

Only shop with reputable vendors that you know you can trust. Obtain their address and contact information and familiarize yourself with their return policies in case there is a problem with your purchase.

3. Be password creative

Lock all your transactions with a strong "password" of at least eight characters while also utilizing numbers, upper and lower-case letters, and special symbols. Use passwords specific to online shopping and not from your computer log-on information.

4. Don't get caught in a trap

Be aware of online "phishing" tricks, which come in the form of legitimate-looking emails from companies you may have shopped with in the past. These emails will ask for your personal information and require you to click on a link within the email. Never click on links sent to you from unfamiliar websites via email; when in doubt regarding an issue with your transaction or account, go directly to the website itself from your browser and log in. Also, do not open "pop-ups" or any other type of unsolicited advertising.

5. Shop from your home computer

Never use public computers or Wi-Fi to do your shopping, as thieves have numerous ways to scan these devices to obtain your personal information.

6. Be smart when sharing info

You should be aware of the website’s privacy policy, what information the company has received from your account sign up, and what it intends to do with that information. Also, only fill out the required fields on the order sheet and never give out more information than is necessary to complete a transaction.

7. Stick with credit over debit

Using a debit card to make your transaction online puts your bank account at risk. Instead, use Paypal, or take advantage of the security of a credit card, which usually only requires you to be liable for the first $50 of a transaction in case thieves get access to your card information.

8. Be app aware

Use only secure apps that are downloaded from a reputable source such as the Android Market, Amazon Appstore, and Apple App Store. If an app is asking for unusual personal information, research online before downloading.

9. Keep a tally

Retain a record of all your online transactions, and check your credit card statements to ensure that you have been billed properly.

10. Protect your children

If you have children, you should monitor their online activity by using blockers, filters, and trackers. It will, however, be more difficult for you to control your child's mobile Internet access; teach your children how to use the Internet responsibly and securely to help avert trouble.

11. Get help if you become a victim

If for some reason you encounter a problem with your online holiday shopping and believe you are a victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has resources available to help you resolve identity theft issues. Other resources pertaining to money, credit, privacy, security, and protecting your computer are also available.

12. Research questionable vendors

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also offers help to consumers. You may file a complaint against a vendor with the BBB and search which companies have had complaints filed against them. The BBB investigates all suspicious marketplace activity and asks consumers to report any misdeeds or strange activities they have witnessed and offers a variety of consumer information and advice.

Online holiday shopping is a handy alternative to the packed crowds and long lines found at your local mall or shopping center during the holiday season. And, once you have secured your online devices using the tips above, you can shop easily online without all the stress. Wishes for a smart, safe, and wonderful holiday season from everyone at KCL!

12 Cyber Monday Safety Tips to Guard Against Scams and Identity Theft