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Online for the Holidays? 11 tips to avoid internet shopping disasters

Did you know that American consumers will spend 25 percent of their holiday gift budget on online purchases? We are so used to shopping via click that we don’t even think twice about fraud.

Online shopping fast, easy and more risky than ever, thanks to the seething yellow underbelly of online criminals eagerly waiting to harvest enormous amounts of your personal and private data.

Stay safe with these 11 tips:

1   Prevent computer flu. Make sure your computer has the latest and greatest spyware, antivirus and system updates installed. Before you shop, run a scan to make sure your computer doesn’t have any malware that might capture your credit card info. The last thing you need is someone helping themselves to your Christmas fund or a lengthy tech phone drama, and those geek support calls are expensive!

2   Get thee to a desktop. If you’re shopping on your smartphone, the online shopping protections you take for granted in many cases just don’t apply.

3   They’ll target your greeting cards too! Cyber criminals know your heart is wide open this time of your, and they will take advantage by exploiting fraudulent charities. And if you get a Christmas e-card in your inbox, leave it unopened. Those “click here to retrieve your card” scams will infect your computer.

4   Wireless is risky. Never EVER enter your credit card info while connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, or surfing in any public area like a coffee shop or hotel lobby.

5   “I thought you might be interested…” If your Facebook friend sends you an amazing online shopping deal—don’t click that link! It’s probably not your friend’s doing. That $100 iPad ad is guaranteed to be fake, and the only thing you’ll get is a malicious virus worse than the flu.

I get links from my friends all the time, and it almost sounds like their writing style. But those messages have never been legit. If you’re not sure, send a private message to your friend and ask. Chances are, he or she did not send you that link.

6   Only shop on secure sites. Duh, right, So how do you tell if a site is secure? Look for the icon that looks like a padlock, or a web address that starts with https:// rather than http://. This means the transactions you make are encrypted.

7   Consider opening a separate credit card just for your holiday shopping—one with just enough available credit for the items you need. Better yet, make it a cash card (I loathe credit card debt.) This way your main account is protected and you’ll still be able to pay your electric bill at the end of the month.

8   Desperate times = dumb decisions. Fake holiday bargains are designed to look exactly like the big brands and latest hot items, especially those hard-to-find gifts. (Kinect, anyone?) No matter how desperate you are or how badly you just have to have that deal, do your homework to make sure the “real” retailer is actually selling this item.

9   Sly as a Faux. These days phishing robots and scammers are using spell check, so you can’t always go by poor spelling and grammar when discerning what’s legit and what’s obviously fake.

10   You want my what? If an e-form is asking for your personal information, you may be on a questionable site. Keep in mind that your credit card company, bank or credit union will never ask you for personal information, full social security numbers, account information, or passwords via email.

11   Worth the extra steps. Spammers love the holidays, because chances are their fake EBay or PayPal log-in page will catch a few more unwary shoppers. If you get an email link for these sites, don’t click! Just type the EBay or PayPal address directly into your browser.

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