ONLINE SHOPPING TIPS

Here are some suggestions by the National Consumers League:

• Don't shop online on an unencrypted or open wireless network. It may leave your computer vulnerable to hackers and thieves to capture your financial information.

• Secure your computer before shopping online by installing anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and a personal firewall; regularly update these programs.

• Pay by credit card. Under federal law you can dispute the charges if you don't get what you were promised. You may also dispute unauthorized charges on your card.

• Be wary of a pop-up ads and other deals through email. Legitimate companies don't send unsolicited email messages asking for your password, login name or your financial information.

• Be careful when shopping for a gift in an online auction. Always ask about terms of delivery and return options. Be wary of auctions that ask for payment via wire transfer.

Sure, there's a lot of talk about today's ultimate holiday shopping spree, Black Friday, when throngs of bargain hunters hit the stores so earnestly that the tradition has spilled over to Turkey Day.

Save some cash, though, for the other spin-off shopping days that have emerged from Black Friday: Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

In an effort to bring more awareness to small businesses during the holiday season, American Express in 2010 introduced Small Business Saturday, which occurs the day after Black Friday.

Last year, more than 100 million shoppers took part in the shopping event, a number that's expected to rise this weekend, according to American Express.

Throughout the Southland, merchants have been working to woo customers into their stores on Nov. 24.

(For a list of stores participating in the region, visit americanexpress.com/.)

Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, for example, is encouraging residents to shop businesses in her 5th District, including those on Norse Way at Lakewood Boulevard and Carson Street, the Parkview Village Shops at Bellflower Boulevard and Carson, and businesses along Spring Street from Studebaker Road to Lakewood.

"In these tough economic times, it's important that we help our neighbors succeed," she said. "Small business is the lifeblood of our community, and Small Business Saturday is a day for everyone, from the business owners who create jobs to the customers who buy locally. Purchasing from our local small businesses helps invigorate the economy and keep our community thriving."

Meanwhile, for those who prefer online shopping, Cyber Monday on Nov. 26 is traditionally the day in which consumers kick off the holiday buying season with online purchases.

Considered one of the biggest shopping days of the year on the Internet, Cyber Monday is the day retailers large and small offer steep online discounts and sometimes free shipping.

But, a word of caution - when it comes to shopping, especially online, the National Consumers League urges consumers to be mindful of holiday scams.

"The Internet can make your shopping faster and easier, but there can also be pitfalls if you're not careful," said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. "There are ways to ensure you have a safe online shopping experience, so that gift-giving is a joyous occasion, not an opportunity for cyber thieves."

karen.robes@presstelegram.com

twitter.com/KarenMeeksPT