How to avoid Cyber Monday traps

This Black Friday, millions of shoppers will once again make the final seconds of a close football game look like a store window filled with clumsy puppies. And when they don't find what they're looking for, they'll go online where, in addition to great deals, a cornucopia of scams await.

The migration from brick-and-mortar retailers to online shopping is pronounced. Last year set a record, with more than $3 billion in online sales. But that doesn't mean people aren't still hitting the stores — Black Friday wasn't far behind in 2015 sales, at $2.74 billion.

As consumers increasingly finish their holiday shopping online — or even do the entirety of it there — the snares and pitfalls of internet fraud have proliferated. But fraud isn't the only worry.

The Mouse Buster

Whether you're faced with a "Mouse Buster" or a good old-fashioned door buster, a compelling promotion involving "limited availability" of a hot item is not a scam — or at least it doesn't have to be. That said, you have to stay aware so you know what it is you're dealing with on Cyber Monday — and remember, scammers are counting on the fact that you will be too stressed to think straight.

All's fair in the battle for the perfect gift during the holiday season. Retailers aren't responsible for the decisions you make. Unless you come prepared knowing precisely what you want, how much you should reasonably pay and have an absolute budget, you may well find it nigh impossible to resist the wiles of the marketing geniuses who make their living selling you the non-essentials of life.

There will be deals online and the promise of impossible-to-find items that disappear like a mirage — arrival to the online oasis suggested by your favorite search engine to find "the toy that can be found nowhere" immediately turning into the hard sell of desperation marketing of alternative items.

Whether you're facing a door buster deal on a popular item or a mouse buster, the same principles apply. Know what you want and how much you should have to pay, and stick to those parameters.

Most importantly, keep your head on straight. Retailer shopping lures are tempting, but they are nothing compared to the trouble a clever phishing lure can cost. Remember: If it seems too good to be true, double check that the deal you're being offered is real.

RELATED: There may be great deals online, but here are 10 items you should avoid purchasing:

Items you should never buy online
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Items you should never buy online


Although it may be more convenient to purchase flowers online, if you have time, it's best to locate a local florist near the person you want to send flowers to. According to a study by, you're more likely to pay less and receive a better bouquet for your money when you use a local florist. 

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You may not realize it, but when you purchase furniture online, you also have to pay for delivery and surcharge fees. In order to avoid paying these unwanted costs, it's easier to get it in person. For example, when buying furniture in-store, you're able to negotiate a better price and maybe even convince the salesperson to throw in free delivery. 

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Much like shopping for flowers, it is best to purchase your groceries at an actual grocery store. When you purchase them in person, you have the opportunity ensure you are choosing the best meats, produce, etc. -- something you can't do when ordering online.

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As beach season rapidly approaches, you probably want to invest in a few new swimsuits. However, before you make that online purchase you'll want to heed this warning. Trae Bodge, senior editor at RetailMeNot, says, " Fit can fluctuate even among suits from the same brand...  and many online retailers don’t allow swimsuit returns if the packaging has been opened or there’s evidence the suit has been worn." 

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Social Media Followers 
We get it, social media is addicting.  While it may be cool to have over 10,000 followers, buying them can be risky. Depending on the social media site you are using, the followers you purchase can be deleted if they are considered spam accounts. 

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Unless advised by your doctor, you should avoid buying medicine online at all costs. It can be tempting to get off-brand products, but you may be unknowingly purchasing illegal or counterfeit drugs. 

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The internet has made it possible to cut out the middleman when dealing with major purchases, but sometimes, that salesperson is needed. If you're buying a car for the first time, it may be best to get it at a dealership. When you get a car online, you're taking away the opportunity to test it out first and negotiate a better deal. 

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Knockoff Accessories 
While getting counterfeit bags and jewelry is cheaper than buying the real thing, you should do so with much caution. Oftentimes, these items are sold on unsecured sites which can lead to either your computer getting a virus or your identity being stolen. 

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While you can find an array of pets being sold online, it is always safest to purchase one in person. Much like furniture, you may have to deal with excessive delivery fees, and what's more, your pet can get sick or even worse. 

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Fragile Items
If you're truly invested in a fragile or irreplaceable item, it's highly recommended to buy and pick it up in the store. This cuts out any chances of a delivery person dropping and breaking your prized possession. 

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At this point in the evolution of the phishing scam, it seems like we should be able to skip the particulars of scams, but the open and click-through rates on phishing emails and texts are still robust.

Part of the reason that's true is because scammers are sophisticated, creative and persistent. Websites are replicated down to the last detail, and URLs are acquired that can pass muster as authentic — with things like a "1" replacing a lowercase L or adding an extra letter — even if you are looking at the URL to make sure you're not being scammed. This applies whether you received an offer via text or email.

The rule of thumb here: If you get an offer via text or email, go online and visit the retailer by carefully and correctly typing in its address instead of clicking the link. If the text or email says that the only way to get the offer is through the link offered, chances are good that it's a scam, because no retailer would chance losing a click-through because of a consumer's fear of getting hacked. (And, if you think you have been hacked, monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can view your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on

You Aren't There

While millions of people take care of all their holiday shopping on Cyber Monday, the day is "traditionally" known as best for certain kinds of gifts: Electronics, beauty items, fashion accessories and travel. Bear in mind, some purchases are often better to make in person where you can check out an item and see if it does what you want it to or is the right size. You may also want to check out whether or not there are better deals on comparable products.

There are purchases that make sense online — a travel package is one that comes to mind, as you are de facto never there until you visit. But when it comes to a new TV or other item that is better seen, handled or experienced first-hand, it's a good idea to go to a store that carries it to make sure it's what you are looking for, even if you intend to make your purchase online.

At the end of the day, the key to successful Cyber Monday shopping is to stay on your A-game. Pay attention, do your homework, don't get caught up in acquisition ecstasy and stick to your plan. And if your first plan for a purchase doesn't work out, it's a good idea to have a Plan B that wasn't figured out by the retailer's door buster strategy meetings.

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