updated 11/28/2011 12:20:46 PM ET 2011-11-28T17:20:46

Cyber Monday is the biggest online-shopping day of the year, so it should come as no surprise that opportunistic online scammers have unleashed a slew of tricks to steal your hard-earned money.

The security firm Sophos spotted spam emails today (Nov. 28) offering door-busting discounts on must-have Cyber Monday gadgets like iPads and MacBooks as well as Adobe software like Photoshop and Acrobat. One email, from "Overstocked-Auctions" and titled "Cyber Monday: BREAKING NEWS — iPad 2," claimed to be selling the Apple tablet for only $17, a whopping price reduction of $482.

"IPads, MacBooks & more up to 90% off. Penny auctions are the craze sweeping the nation," the email read.

Penny auctions are legal, but their online versions can be very deceptive. Entrants must pay fees for the right to bid on offered items. Since the bids go up in increments of only one cent at a time, bidders quickly run out of allotted bidding rights and must pay more for the chance to bid again. Hence, an iPad that sells for "only" $17 will have cost each bidder — not only the auction winner, but the losers as well — much more than that, easily offsetting the auctioneer's costs.

If you don't want to get swept up in this 'craze,' don't enter penny auctions and don't purchase anything from companies that use spam to sell their products. If you absolutely need to take advantage of today's online savings, visit a reputable online store and stay away from auction sites or other Web stores offering too-good-to-be-true discounts.

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