Tips for Avoiding Online Schemes to Steal Your Money


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By Randy Hutchinson, Special to The Commercial Appeal

While many of us are pulling the decorations out of the attic and getting ready for food, family and friendship, the crooks are dusting off old holiday scams and inventing new ones. Many of them take advantage of the increasing propensity of people to shop online.

The Better Business Bureau and McAfee, a well-respected security software company, have identified common holiday scams. Here are a few examples:

Phishing emails telling you a FedEx or UPS package couldn't be delivered and instructing you to open an attachment that will tell you how to get the package. Doing so downloads a virus or other malware.

Fraudulent auction sites that victimize people looking for a good deal on gifts or gift cards.

E-greeting cards that supposedly contain a holiday message from a friend. Clicking on them may download malware.

"New friend requests" on social networking sites that actually link to viruses and other malware.

Santa screensavers or holiday ringtones you find on the Internet that link to malware.

Pop-up boxes that tell you a virus has been detected on your computer and instruct you to download a program that will delete it. At best, this "scareware" won't work; at worst, it will download the virus.

Follow these tips to thwart the grinches who want to steal your holiday joy:

Install the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall on your computer.

Always look for the BBB seal or other well-known trustmarks when shopping online and click on the seal to confirm it's legitimate. When shopping on sites that aren't household names, check the business out with the BBB before you buy.

Beware of websites that don't have a phone number or physical address for the company. If you're shopping on the website, look for refund and privacy policies. If any of this information is missing, shop elsewhere.

When purchasing items on auction websites, check out the site and the seller and always listen to your doubts if the deal doesn't sound legitimate.

Beware of solicitations from charities that you aren't familiar with and don't be misled by sound-alike names. Always research the charity.

Don't click on any links or open any attachments to e-mails until you've confirmed that they're not malicious. E-mail addresses that don't match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing e-mail.

Never pay money upfront to get a job.

Use a credit card to make payment. You'll have more recourse if something goes wrong than if you pay by check or cash. Never wire money as payment.

My final piece of advice is good during the holidays and year-round -- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

-- Randy Hutchinson:

Reprinted with permission from The Commercial Appeal

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