If you have ever been Black Friday shopping, you know just how hectic it can be. While some people do not seem to mind standing outside in the cold, fighting with each other for the best products, and waiting in the checkout lines for over an hour, there is another alternative that has been attracting increasing shopping attention. Cyber Monday has become the most popular online shopping day of the year. More and more companies have been offering “Black-Friday-like” online deals on the Monday immediately following Black Friday. Consumers can purchase products at low and competitive prices on Cyber Monday without even having to leave their houses.

The convenience of online shopping has been a large factor in the growth of sales recorded on Cyber Monday. In 2011, Cyber Monday sales were $1.25 billion, which was a 22% increase from 2010. Consumers spent an average of $198.26 per person. Will sales in 2012 be even greater than 2011? If history is any indication of the future, the answer is yes.

Unfortunately, the amount of fraud associated with sites that offer Cyber Monday deals has also been increasing. In 2011, federal law enforcement agencies busted 150 counterfeit merchandising websites. Not only are there multiple counterfeit websites out there, consumers need to be aware of all of the internet sellers, websites, and emails designed to steal their identities or install viruses.

Here is a list of steps from The Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance that you can take to protect yourself from fraud this Cyber Monday.

Research sellers: Check them out with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.

Make sure the site is secure: This can include a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL that begins with shttp or https.

Check the website’s privacy policy: Understand how your information will be used.

Make sure you are using safe payment: Credit cards and other pay systems like PayPal are much safer options than debit cards.

Return Policies: Get familiar with the return policy on the product you ordered. Many sites may not offer returns on certain items.

Keep a paper trail for your records: Keep and print everything related to your transaction. This can be the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale, and any emails exchanged with the seller.

Turn your computer completely off when you are done shopping: Staying connected to the Internet all day gives scammers access to your computer to install viruses.

Be aware of scam emails: Do not give your information to any company if they ask for it via email. A legitimate business would not collect your personal information via email.

Stay Updated: Make sure you have the latest security software installed.

Good Passwords: Make sure your passwords are long and strong. Use capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Also, use separate passwords for every account.

Do not click on just anything: Do not click on links in emails, tweets, posts, etc. unless you are completely sure they are legitimate.

Will you be shopping in-stores on Black Friday, or will you be sitting in the comfort of your home doing your shopping online on Cyber Monday? Have you ever been a victim of a scam from Cyber Monday shopping? Comment below and let me know!