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In today’s “Money Mondays” segment, Mellody Hobson gives you the inside scoop on cyberscammers and how to avoid them.

With Black Friday behind us, we’re now in full-swing holiday shopping season. But before you nab those “can’t be beat” deals, consider my advice about protecting yourself online. Today kicks off the online holiday buying frenzy, meaning cyberscammers are so happy, they’re singing Christmas carols, so I couldn’t be catching you at a more opportune time!

Last year, consumers spent about $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday, up 16% from 2011. Industry experts predict this season will see even more growth. Coupled with the boom in sales is a predicted increase in the amount and severity of online scamming and data theft. So I want to cover a few key points to help everyone minimize their online risk.

First, don’t click on popup ads. Malicious popup ads are one of the most prevalent security threats to online shoppers. When in doubt, put down that mouse! The same goes for email. Don’t click through a tantalizing email offer. And don’t think that because it comes from a “friend” via social media that it’s safe: Social media is the cyberscammer’s playground. To avoid getting hacked, enter a store’s url directly instead of clicking through a promotional link.

This is where keeping your computer and apps updated has its benefits. Updates help keep security tight. Speaking of which, there are a number of free anti-virus software options available. But at the very least, make your passwords hard to crack. That means your birthday and your pets’ names are off limits.

Next, be wary of who you’re ordering from. Stick to merchants that you know and trust, and when it comes to sites that sell through third parties like ebay, Amazon and Etsy, ensure the seller has a high number of positive reviews and a return policy you can live with.

When shopping online for the holidays, try to use a credit card instead of your debit card. Credit frequently has more safeguards in place than debit. Also check your statements a little more frequently than usual. It’s high season for Santa, but also for scams.

Finally, shop on a secure connection. Free wireless at the coffee shop is great for checking your email but not for ordering Aunt June a new toaster. Also, before you enter your financial information on a website, ensure the site itself is secure. You can do that by checking that the URL address begins with “https” and not just “http” or there’s a lock icon in your browser’s search bar, signifying that it’s encrypted.

The same rules hold true when shopping on your smartphone, which is becoming more and more common. Secure site, secure connection, verified merchants. In addition, you simply MUST, MUST, MUST have a security lock on your phone. If you don’t and your phone is lost, you may as well just give someone the keys to your house.

A lot of precautions to take!

Being a little extra careful can save you from the immeasurable hassle of identity theft. And don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of online shopping. There are tons of great deals. Plus it’s convenient and free shipping is often an included perk. Also, it keeps you on point because you’re less likely to fall prey to those expensive, strategically placed impulse buys that catch your eye in the store. Online shopping is great. I just urge everyone to think before you click and remember, if it looks too good be true, that’s probably because it is.

Mellody is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts.  Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.

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