Once a year, millions of Americans "practice" for a currency crisis...
It's like what folks in Argentina experienced during the last currency crisis. And what Greek citizens had to do this summer.
They wake at 4 a.m... stand in line for hours... shuffle past security goons at the door... and hope that no one tries to "rush in" at the last minute...
But instead of trying to stock up on pesos or euros, Americans are waiting for the opportunity to save a few bucks on a big-screen TV on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
For years, you could save hundreds of dollars by standing in line. The tradeoff of time-to-value was worth it.
Thankfully, there's no point anymore. Now, there's only one place worth going on Black Friday...
Last year was the first time that I did all my Black Friday shopping on the Internet, mostly on Amazon (the world's largest retailer). The deals at your local brick-and-mortar store are simply not good enough to justify losing sleep and spending hours waiting in line.
More stores now offer online-only deals starting on Black Friday. And even better is the Monday after Thanksgiving – Cyber Monday. That's the day Internet retailers designate for their biggest deals.
Amazon even announced it's starting a "countdown" week of sales from Friday, November 20 through Black Friday. And it's not the only one starting early. Several websites – like www.theblackfriday.com and www.blackfriday.com – track the best deals.
But cyber-deal enthusiasts beware: You need to stay safe when you shop online...
When Shopping Online
1) Only use trusted sites: Whenever you enter your credit-card number, always look for the letter "s" at the end of the URL's "http." It should say "https://" before the rest of the site's address. In most browsers, an icon of a closed padlock will appear as well, either next to the URL or at the bottom of the screen.
The lock means it's an encrypted website. Without encryption, hackers can potentially access your information.
2) Check the spelling: Make sure you're at the right URL. Many scam-based websites will look almost like the real thing. Sites with .co after them are often fake sites and may also have hackers lurking.
And if you aren't familiar with a retailer's website, check for a designation from the Better Business Bureau, and be sure to read some reviews from past customers before filling in your personal information.
3) Shield yourself: Lots of Internet shopping means the potential for pop-ups, malware, viruses, and other nasty bugs. Invest in a good malware-removal program and a good antivirus program. I use Norton programs for both. You can check out a free trial right here.
Popular technology blog Lifehacker tested out the most popular free services. It recommended Malwarebytes and Avast for top-notch protection. You can read the write-ups here and here.
4) Don't use public "free" Wi-Fi: If you connect your computer or smartphone wirelessly, only use secure, password-protected Wi-Fi. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, avoid signing into your credit-card or bank accounts, or entering your credit-card information. These unsecured networks are far easier for hackers to crack.
Always conduct purchases on secured networks. For an easy guide on how to secure your home network system, read PC Magazine's tutorial.
5) Guard your password: Some websites now offer something called "two-factor authentication." Two-factor authentication requires your password plus another piece of information – like a code sent to your e-mail or mobile device associated with your account – to log in to a website. I love using this feature.
Many companies – including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the password-manager service LastPass – give you the option of using two-factor authentication, as do many banks, brokerages, and credit-card companies. And we just found out that Amazon has recently started using this as well. Perfect timing for Cyber Monday.
Tech blog Gizmodo has a guide on how to set up two-factor authentication on some websites. You can read it here.
6) Use resell sites cautiously: Sites where you can buy from third parties... like Amazon's marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay... can snag you great deals. But anything with an "activation code" requires extra care when purchasing... I'd avoid them.
For example, gift cards can be a gamble. You don't really know if the full value is really still on there.
7) Always check for a receipt. Print out the confirmation page on your computer or save the confirmation e-mail.
And make sure to check your credit-card statement to ensure the charges are correct. Check that day and again a week later to make sure extra charges didn't slip in after your initial purchase.
Please use these seven tips this week, on Black Friday, and on Cyber Monday to do what I do: Stay home. Do your shopping from the couch and without the stress of fighting your way through hordes of people in a store.
Or better yet, go see a movie or spend more time with your family over a cup of coffee or tea.
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- Black Friday is dying and that's a good thing.
- Marketers are robbing "Black Friday" of any meaning that it ever had.
- Beware of the "crush point" if you venture out this Black Friday.