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Cyber Monday - the first Monday in December and the busiest online shopping day of the year - follows hot on the heels of Black Friday on 29 November, when stores across the world tempt us with amazing bargains. The festive season shopping extravaganza is well and truly upon us.


If you're joining the throngs online in the run-up to Christmas, how can you make sure you protect yourself and avoid getting scammed or ripped off?


We're forecast to spend about £10 billion on our debit and credit cards online in the next few weeks, a five-fold increase over the past decade, according to the Payments Council. Internet shopping is of course convenient: you don't have to trudge up the high street or worry about opening hours, and it's easy to compare prices online.


But with so much money at stake, is it safe? What if you unwittingly buy fake goods, or purchase presents from a bogus website? Then there is the risk of fraud. If you make a payment through an unsecure site, your details could be stolen by sophisticated internet fraudsters.


So here are six top tips to keep your money safe when you shop online...


1. Defend your computer


Potential hazards make it important to prioritize safety. Let's start with your computer. It should be fitted with a firewall and up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software.


Watch out, too, for 'phishers' posing as legitimate companies to extract personal information. Be wary of any unsolicited emails that ask for financial details such as credit card numbers. Your bank will never ask you to provide account information in an email.


Use extreme care if you are asked to click on a link to 'verify account information' or 'confirm your email details' or similar as doing so can give the fraudsters access to sensitive information stored on your computer.


2. Beware password pickpockets



Safeguard all your passwords and choose them with care. You'll make life easy for online pickpockets if your password is your date of birth or the names of your children or pets. Don't use 'Password1' or anything similar.


It also makes sense to vary your password from site to site and account to account. Otherwise, the thief who cracks the code has access to a mass of financial information. It's a bit like leaving your door open for the local burglar, then leaving all your valuables on display on the kitchen table.


3. Surf suitable sites


When you are ready to start shopping, choose reputable sites of companies you recognise and trust. If you want to go on a spree on a less familiar website, do some research into the company and make sure it has a physical address and phone number. It's also a good idea to look up a company on a customer review site.


If you are worried about buying counterfeit goods, the online directory Brand-i only lists websites selling genuine products and is supported by Trading Standards.


And you can of course shop in confidence via our shopping channel.


4. Use your credit card


Savvy shoppers often pick up bargains on auction websites such as eBay. But safety warnings and rules still apply. Don't send money direct into someone's bank account. It's much safer to use a secure payment site such as PayPal to safeguard your financial information.


It's also sensible to pay for your internet shopping with a credit card if you are buying goods worth between £100 and £60,260. A credit card gives you added consumer protection in case something goes wrong, as the card issuer can be held jointly liable with the retailer.


5. Scrutinize website details


Always check for the padlock or unbroken key symbol in the browser frame before you enter your payment details. The icons show that the site is encrypted for security. In other words, the data will be scrambled to prevent fraudsters stealing any information.


The website address should also begin with the letters https - s stands for secure. If the final s does not appear, you should not go ahead with the purchase.


Some sites redirect shoppers to a third party payment service. But again, you should check it is secure. Your bank might impose further security measures, such as Verified by Visa.


There are a couple of other shopping safeguards. The VeriSignTrust Seal means VeriSign has verified the identity of the website company. There's also the Trustmark, which is awarded only to shops that have met certain criteria, including standards of consumer protection.


As ever, 'buyers beware' is the golden rule. If something looks too good to be true, it no doubt is. And if you are in any doubt whatsoever about the site or the offer, don't go ahead with the transaction.


6. Track your order



Find out about the company's returns policy and make a note of the order number. Distance selling regulations oblige the retailer to deliver your purchases within 30 days or by the date agreed. If not, you are entitled to a full refund. Also, if you change your mind you can usually get a full refund, plus standard delivery costs, if you cancel anytime from when you first placed your order up to seven working days after the date the goods were delivered.


When you have finished shopping, log out of the website to protect your privacy, keep any receipts and check your bank statements to make sure that nothing is amiss.


If your online shopping is for the purposes of Christmas, visit our at-a-glance list of delivery deadlines which sets out the dates from whole list of major retailers that you will need to order your goods by if you want to get them in time for the Big Day.


Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct