Five chilling facts about Cyber Monday Shopping

Okay, your goal should be NOT to conform to what you see below. The travel industry, riding something of a recovery this year, is set to come out with some solid sales on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. So, as you click among hotel, airline and online travel agency sites, it will pay for you to be aware of the biggest risks you face.

Despite the many risks associated with online shopping – and the fact that they have been shoved in the public’s face since the early days of internet commercialization – people still roll the dice with their financial security. When you get excited about cheap tickets or a real bargain on the excursion of a lifetime, take a moment to make sure you aren’t getting scammed. Your savviest purchase may be the one you never make.

So, what are the risks? Let’s take a look at five scary facts from web security firm Webroot:1. Don’t trust page one: a high placement in Google search results shouldn’t be a sign of trust. According to Webroot, 59 percent of survey respondents trust the results they get in the first few pages, up from 39 percent last year. Unfortunately, this placement is “a target for malicious links.” Interestingly, the number of people using search engines is falling: “48 percent of online shoppers frequently if not always use search engines to find gifts online, compared to 52 percent in 2009,” Webroot reports.

Solution: Watch brand. If you recognize the company’s brand, you can be more comfortable with the purchase. Also, watch where the link sends you. For an extra layer of protection, enter the company’s address into the browser yourself instead of clicking the link in Google.

2. Risky wifi behavior: 18 percent of shoppers are likely to use public wifi for holiday shopping, Webroot reports, up from 12 percent in 2009. This can be risky, especially with 23 percent of respondents feeling comfortable using free public wifi.

Solution: Do your online shopping at home or at work. Stealing wifi from your neighbor so you can toss your credit card number onto the web is probably pretty stupid.

3. New site, new password: are you planning to jump on a deal from a company you haven’t used before? Well, this is the point of many of the Cyber Monday travel deals you’ll see: companies want to lure you away from your ol’ stand-by sites. Do take advantage of the hot promotions, but be smart. Using the same password everywhere is like hiding a house key under your doormat.

Solution: Use a new password every time you create an account with a travel website. Also, be one of the 72 percent of online shoppers who uses a “complex” password – i.e., a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.

4. Social should be personal: 26 percent of respondents to the Webroot survey indicated that someone else had used their social media or email accounts to send friends messages in their names. With travel companies increasingly turning to social media platforms to market their deals and bolster their brands, expect a lot more interaction this year … which brings hefty doses of risk with it.

Solution: Take a look at your sent messages from time to time, and look at your Twitter stream from the perspective of another user. Make sure you recognize everything you’re putting out into the world.

5. Look for safety: 52 percent of Webroot’s respondents don’t check to see if a site uses SSL, and 50 percent don’t look for the padlock in the lower right corner of the web browser. This is like not twisting the doorknob after you lock it.

Solution: pay attention to where you make purchases online. In addition to getting comfortable with the company website, you also want to be aware of the security in place. If something feels off, play it safe: don’t buy. No deal is worth the consequences of risky online purchasing behavior.

[Via Insurance Information Institute, photo by InfoMofo via Flickr]

Top five social media destinations

Do you live your life in 140 characters are less? Have you almost lost your life several times because you had to get that shot of a crazy cab driver uploaded to Facebook? If this is anything like you, here are five cities you’re just going to love.

NetProspex has ranked the cities in the United States by social media activity, and the results are not at all surprising. Using the NetProspex Social Index (PDF), which the company developed, it was able to rank activity across a number of social media platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Here are the details on the methodology:

The data was mined from their database of business contacts. There are three components to the score. First there is social connectedness: the number of employees with at least one social media profile. Second there is social friendliness and reach: the average number of connections per employee across major social networks. Third is social activity: the average number of tweets, number of followers, and number of users following.

So, who wins? Take a look below:
1. San Francisco: home of Twitter and long-time tech city, is this really surprising?

2. San Jose: okay, like San Francisco but not as cool … pretty easy to see this one coming

3. New York: 8 million people with nothing better to do and plenty to TwitPic

4. Austin: who knew the country’s sexiest city would also be one of its most socially connected? Hot people flock together and like to stay in touch

5. Boston: another tech center, especially the metro area, and there really is nothing better to do up there …

[Thanks @zimmermitch, photo by Laurie DePrete]

Traveling women are Facebook addicts

A new study of female travelers indicates that close to half can’t let go of Facebook when they’re on the road. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the social network of choice for women on the go.

Ninety-three percent of women who have had an overnight trip in the past month, according to Women on Their Way, have Facebook accounts, and 68 percent of them use it for travel purposes. What do they like to do most? Share multimedia! Fifty-seven percent engage in that activity. Status updates and commentary about the trip are next (38 percent), followed by Facebook Places check-ins (13 percent).

While these activities can happen before or after the trip has come to a close, 46 percent of respondents said they use Facebook while actually traveling, and 77 percent connect to the social media platform via a laptop.

So, if you see some hottie in the hotel bar and want to know if she’s interested in doing something regrettable … well, it helps to be “friends” first.

[photo by Andrew Feinberg via Flickr]

Top five ways to use social media to look like you’re working on vacation

We’ve put some distance between us and the September 2008 financial crisis, but unemployment – and tension the workplace – is still high. There’s plenty of anxiety over whether people appear to be working hard enough, because it’s safe to assume that the budgets being allocated or raises and bonuses are unlikely to be generous. So, in the quest to appear productive, employees need more tools. Thankfully, we have social media: use it wisely, and you can look wholly dedicated to your company and your job while you’re on vacation.

The trick, of course, is to look productive. Work through your vacation, and you give up an opportunity to relax … and risk annoying the friends or family traveling with you. I’ve written about tools you can use to look like you’re working even when you’re not, but the proliferation of social media options gives you new ways to snow your boss.1. Plan your lies
While you’re waiting at the gate or sitting on the plane, write out the tweets and Facebook status updates that make it look like you’re thinking about the office. Use brief mentions of activities that could look like work, such as “Taking quick look @ document before heading to pool”. Write enough so you have three or four a day (you don’t want to overdo it).

2. Schedule your tweets and status updates
Since you don’t want to give up vacation time to even the appearance of working, schedule your tweets and Facebook status updates. HootSuite’s my favorite, but there are other tools you can use, as well. I prefer HootSuite because I can hit Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn from the same place and schedule updates for each. Twitter may say you’re “taking quick look @ contract” but you’ll really be sipping something delightful on the sand.

3. “Favorite” tweets for @replying or retweeting later
Unfortunately, this requires that you actually do something while you’re on vacation, but it’s not as hard as it sounds (as long as you use a smartphone). While you’re waiting in line or running off to the bathroom, use a Twitter application (I use UberTwitter) to scan your stream and see if there is anything work- or business-related that you can retweet. Do some immediately, but mark most of the interesting tweets as favorites. When you get back to your hotel room, schedule the retweets over time, so it looks like you’re continually thinking about work.

4. Check in (with the office, that is)
Again, you can’t schedule this sort of behavior, but you can still fake it. During your flurries of @ replying and retweeting, dash off a few direct messages to key people at the office (peers are better than bosses, because I will seem more like real work) just to see how things are going and if anybody needs some help. The only risk is that you could get dragged into a conversation (or worse) if someone really does need a hnd.

5. Hire a helper
Find an unemployed liberal arts grad who’s willing to tweet and post for you for a few days. Pay him or her with access to your garage while you’re out of town and a hot meal when you get back. Hire a psych or philosophy major, and you can probably get away with cold pizza.

Whereboutz by TeleNav lets you create a social networking travel journal

Whereboutz is a new social networking site from the people behind the popular Telenav navigation software. The site lets you create your own trip journal, filled with maps, geotagged photos, videos and more.

Unlike many other social networking sites, Whereboutz allows you to keep your site private, which means you get to pick the people you share your trip with. Of course, if you prefer to share everything you do, you can also share your updates using Twitter of Facebook. With the iPhone app, you can upload your location, along with photos, videos and voice memos.

The site is free of charge, as is their iPhone app. Best of all, if you sign up, and provide some feedback, you’ll be entered to win a $500 Visa gift card!

So, if you are heading on a trip this summer, and you’d like to keep friends and family updated on your adventures, go sign up for the site and take it for a spin.