Stores, Identity Thieves Ready for Cyber Monday

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 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

  • Use a national credit card instead of a debit card
  • Make sure the names and addresses on your cards and accounts are identical
  • Visit shopping sites directly instead of clicking on links that were sent to you
  • Sign the backs of your credit and debit cards
  • If using eBay or similar sites, make sure the person you do business with is well established

With Black Friday in the past, stores are focusing on Cyber Monday -- the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Retailers estimate shoppers will spend $2 billion this year, part of a growing national trend toward online shopping.

At the Meijer store in Okemos, Store Director Chris Wilson is bracing for a tenfold increase in sales.

"People's time is stretched so much these days and anything they can do to spend more time with friends and family makes a big difference," Wilson said.

An increased demand and shortened holiday shopping season -- Thanksgiving fell on November 28 this year, leaving the fewest number of shopping days before Christmas in a decade -- led Meijer to open its sale a day early and keep it open through December 7.

"I think it just takes some stress off of our customers and really gives them the opportunity to spend the week, look at the website, make your decisions, and save a lot of money," he said.

Shoppers say a more relaxed environment is the reason they prefer to do online commerce in the first place.

"You don't have to fight the crowds," said Keesha Chadwell, a shopper from Eaton Rapids. "I'd rather not stand in line."

Portland resident Jessica Miller said she shopped on Black Friday, but she expects the deals to be better online this week.

"I love being able to use the coupon codes that are online and staying at home," she said.

But a big day for online shoppers is also a big day for identity thieves, said Scott Merritt, author of the book "Identity Theft Dos and Don'ts...What You Need to Know...Now What?"

He urges caution when shoppers take to their computer screens this week, citing a Federal Trade Commission stat that says 19 people are victims of identity theft every minute.

He says it's important to visit retailers' websites directly.

"Sometimes fraudsters will send you an email saying it's from Meijer or whomever and it really isn't," he said. "It's a dummy site they've made to look like Meijer or some other retailer so that they can get your information."

It's also safest to use a credit card instead of a debit card, Merritt said. National cards -- which have the potential to grow to a limit of $50,000 or greater -- have added protections in recent laws. In other words, if there is fraud, the card company will take care of it. The same can't necessarily be said for your local bank, Merritt said.

More than 141 million unique shoppers hit the stores over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, up from last year.

Total spending is estimated to be $57.4 billion, according to the NRF.

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