PhotoRetailers got an early start on their Black Friday sales, hoping to make the most of the kick-off to the holiday shopping season. But if this year is like last, even more shoppers will do more of their shopping online.

In fact, Cyber Monday, the first Monday following Black Friday, has become just as important to both shoppers and retailers, and is considered the “official” start of the online holiday shopping season, says Abbe E. Forman, assistant professor of Computer and Information Science at Temple University.

“Online shopping has become so popular that it now accounts for nearly half of all holiday shopping,” said Forman, an expert in online security. “While online shopping is easy, convenient, and fun, security concerns still keep many folks away. Even savvy online shoppers should take a few extra moments to ensure their online safety so that their shopping experience is the best that it can be.”

Take precautions

Forman recommends a few steps that shoppers take to protect themselves while shopping online this holiday season.

“Keep an eye out for scams; everyone loves a good sale, but if something looks too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.

When considering a purchase from a retailer that you are not familiar with, Forman suggests doing some homework before “clicking” your purchase.

“Google them and see what other folks have said about their shopping experience with that company,” she said. “Try lots of different keywords to get to the info you want or need to see. There are many sites that offer good customer reviews.”

Also, Forman warns not to give out any personal information prior to your decision to make a purchase. “You should be able to peruse a website without giving any information. If an online retailer wants info prior to a transaction, it’s a red flag.

Check order carefully before hitting 'submit'

Even reputable retailers can have policies and procedures that take consumers by surprise, especially if they don't read all the disclaimers.

Kim, of Wilmington, Mass., placed an order from in part, she says, because the site said there would be no charge for shipping on orders over $50.

"My order was a $400 order, and only after I placed the order, did it jump to over $600," Kim told "I was charged for shipping, which cost more than the most expensive item in my cart. I was able to cancel the order within my 30 minutes."

As part of its Black Friday sale, Target is, indeed offering free shipping on "eligible" toys. Shoppers must look closely to see which items are eligible and which are not.

Once you’ve decided to make a purchase, Forman says there are a few tips to keep in mind to safeguard your personal information.

“Always be sure that you are transacting across a secure connection by looking for both https in the address bar and the little padlock icon toward the bottom of the computer screen,” she said. “Also, don’t give out more information than what is required. When filling out online forms, at either checkout or other times, only give the absolute minimum required info.”

Forman also suggest signing up for a free email address such as Hotmail, Yahoo! or Gmail.

“Use it for online transactions,” she said. “That way if the online retailer sells your email address to a spammer, it won’t come to your primary email address.”

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