According to early holiday sales reports, shoppers are in a better frame of mind this year.
Hoping for a spillover effect from Black Friday, many retailers have extended their post-Thanksgiving sales, including special deals online. Two days ago it was Cyber Monday, a push started by retailers five years ago to tap into the online shoppers. The goal was to get consumers to shop at their desks on the first workday after Thanksgiving. In the last half decade, Cyber Monday revenues have increased steadily, and now account for between 8 and 10 percent of total holiday sales.
Nearly 90 percent of U.S. retailers offered some kind of Cyber Monday promotion this year, targeting those shoppers who weren't keen on getting up at 4 a.m. and jostling in stores for those in-store deals.
On Thanksgiving Day, usually a quiet time for online shopping, Americans spent $407 million online, 28 percent more than last year. They spent nearly $650 million online the following day, up 9 percent.
Last year, Cyber Monday sales totaled $887 million. This year, analysts say they wouldn't be surprised if revenues topped $1 billion.
With the increased volume comes the threat of online scams. Cyber thieves are busy as holiday shoppers these days leading up to Christmas. Identity thieves often try to gain personal information by sending e-mails and text messages indicating problems with financial accounts.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, a partnership of the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center, received 336,655 complaints in 2009 - a 22 percent increase over the previous year - which involved losses totaling $559.7 million.
Here are the 10 most common cyber fraud complaint categories:
1. FBI scams, in which the sender tries to get money or personal identification via e-mails claiming to be from the FBI.
2. Advance fee fraud. It involves promises of giving something in exchange for an advance payment.
3. ID theft, involving stolen personal information.
4. Nondelivery of merchandise. An item is purchased but never delivered.
5. Overpayment fraud. Someone receives a bad check or money order with instructions to deposit it into a bank and return some money to the sender.
6. Miscellaneous fraud. An attempt to get the recipient to send money where nothing is bought or sold.
7. Spam. A consumer gets unsolicited or unwanted e-mail, usually mass distributed.
8. Credit card fraud. Someone attempts to make unauthorized charges to another person's account.
9. Auction fraud. Transactions occur in false auctions.
10. Computer damage. Criminals target and damage computers.
The FBI recommends to be especially wary of unsolicited e-mail (spam) and not to respond to it or click on links within it; to be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, since the files may contain viruses; avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information; and always compare the link in the e-mail with the link to which you are directed to determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
Beware if you are asked to act quickly since scammers are eager to create a false sense of urgency.
By Jim Zbick