SALT LAKE CITY — The average consumer spent $423 between Thursday and Sunday, up more than 6 percent over last year, while overall spending jumped nearly 13 percent to an estimated $59.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Seasonal shopping continued with Cyber Monday and was expected to net record sales, as a projected 129.2 million shoppers said they planned to shop online Monday. That's according to a survey sponsored by Shop.org, which noted 106.9 million shopped online during 2010's Cyber Monday.
Welcome to Tuesday. Now that the frenzy is over, the real work begins, and both financial and Internet security experts are urging caution and the need for good judgment.
While some analysts have predicted mediocre sales this year due to economic concerns, overall holiday sales are expected to rise 4.1 percent compared with 5.6 percent sales growth last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Overall holiday sales are projected to hit about $586.1 billion. The average American shopper is expected to spend $749.51 this holiday season — up $9 from last year.
Make a spending plan
Maintaining a sense of fiscal responsibility is the key to avoiding any major financial pitfalls, said Craig Israelsen, associate professor in BYU's Department of Family Life. He recommends implementing a spending plan to avoid racking up debt after the holidays.
"The plan is misconstrued by people as meaning, 'I can't do stuff,'" said Israelsen, who teaches personal and family finance at BYU. "The whole point of the spending (plan) — i.e. the budget — is to guide us to do the things that we ultimately want to do.”
He said having a plan prevents reckless spending, just like discipline prevents reckless eating for physical health.
"If you keeping spending too much, then you are going to have to spend less at some point in the future to pay back all the money you owe people — particularly your credit cards," Israelsen said.
"Ultimately, the budget is not a heavy-handed, onerous, fun-sucking part of our lives," he said. "It's merely a plan to allow us to do what we most value."
Seek out secure websites
Each year, a greater portion of holiday sales is conducted online, according to the National Retail Federation, which estimates that Internet sales will account for more than 52 percent of consumers' holiday purchases this year.
To that end, the Utah Department of Commerce advises consumers to be especially vigilant in protecting their personal identification information when making purchases online.
"Make sure that you do your homework about the site (you're buying from)," said Francine Giani, the department's executive director. "Make sure that you're going to a secure website. Make sure the site you're going to has been around for a while and hasn't cropped up overnight."
Giani said that during the holiday season in particular, her office receives complaints from consumers regarding online purchasing. With so many shoppers choosing the Internet, safety is becoming more important than ever to avoid identity theft, she said.
Be leery of 'special' promotions
Software maker Norton warned that cybercriminals look to capitalize on the online shopping frenzy through fake sites and scams masquerading as "special" promotions.
According to the 2012 Norton Cybercrime Report, cybercrime costs $110 billion annually, claiming 556 million victims each year.
To protect against credit card fraud, identity theft or other cybercrime, search for signs of approval, said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for online security company Norton. "Trustmarks," such as the Better Business Bureau logo, show the retailer has been verified and the site is likely free from malware, she said.
"Look for HTTPS and the color green in your browser address bar before entering your personal information," Merritt said. "Also, use a credit card, not a debit card, for added protection as a consumer."
If there is a dispute with a retailer regarding a purchase, a credit card company will work on the consumer's behalf before people have to pay for the purchase, while using a debit card provides instant payment that would have to be refunded by the retailer.
Avoid storing credit card information on retailer websites and be cautious on public Wi-Fi networks as they can be virtual playgrounds for cybercriminals, she said.
Merritt instead suggested using a personal VPN (virtual private network) or waiting to use a protected network before buying anything online.
Avoid spam's hidden surprises by always being cautious of any emails receive from unknown recipients or that seem too generous, she added.
Beware mobile adware
Lastly, threats on mobile devices are increasing and becoming more sophisticated, so beware of mobile apps may feature unwanted aggressive advertising known as "madware" or mobile adware, Merritt said.
She recommends using a security solution and adware tool for smartphones, tablets, laptops and home computers to them protected.
"Your phone is not just a communications device or browser," Merritt said. "It contains lots of information about you … including your social networking accounts, probably information about your online banking and e-commerce. As a result, if you lose the phone or if someone were to infect it or spy on your activity, then they could glean a lot of information about you."
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