I've got a pretty hard-and-fast rule when it comes to online shopping. I don't like to do it unless I just can't find it at a local Rockford or Rockford-area store. I will bend that rule if the price-point on the item or items is at least 40% cheaper than I can find here at home, but I prefer shopping locally.

I know many people share my opinion, but for the first time, more people don't. Projections for Cyber-Monday sales are poised to beat the brick-and-mortar stores for the first time since numbers-crunchers began looking into the disparity. So, if you're going to do the Cyber-Monday thing today, or any online shopping at any point, you'll want to keep yourself protected.

Here's an eye-opener from MarketWatch about shopping online:

American shoppers are set to participate in what’s expected to be the largest Cyber Monday shopping frenzy yet this week, surpassing last year’s record sales of $3 billion — and fraudsters are ready to cash in on it. Consumers hitting the web for Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals are at a high risk of identity theft and hacking, with thousands of unsafe and malicious websites posing as vendors, according to a study of five leading e-commerce retail brands from cybersecurity company RiskIQ. There were over 1,100 malicious websites posing as those five brand names that also had references to Black Friday or Cyber Monday to lure customers into scams, and 1 in 10 mobile apps found under a “Black Friday” search in app stores were unsafe to use.

For those who think that sort of thing won't happen to them, employ these tips to make sure you're covered:

  • If you are able to remember your password, it’s probably not a great one. Security experts suggest using complex passwords that include a variety of numbers and characters, or long strings of random words. The majority of internet users have dozens of accounts, making it difficult to remember every password. To keep track, use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password, or go the old school route and write passwords down on paper to be stored in a safe place.
  • This time of year, consumers are often making an unusually high number of purchases, so they should be extra vigilant to make sure account activity is legitimate. “A lot of theft that occurs goes unnoticed, and once it is noticed often the goods and services have been delivered,” said Marc Boroditsky, vice president at security app Authy. He suggests turning on notifications to be alerted when purchases are made. “That kind of visibility gives me confidence I can confirm there is not fraud on my account and allows me to participate in the process.”
  • When making Cyber Monday purchases, be sure to shop on secure Wi-Fi at home, not a coffee shop, airport, or other public network. If you must shop while on the go, use a mobile device with a data plan or a personal hot spot created from your phone. Stand-alone mobile hot spots can also be purchased from phone providers like Verizon. Users shopping by laptop on public Wi-Fi can also implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like Private internet Access or Freedome to obscure and protect their web traffic and better ensure security.

For MarketWatch's full story on protecting yourself while cyber-shopping, click here.