Holidays bring out online scammers

As retailers gear up for the Cyber Monday frenzy, it's time for consumers to turn their attention to online security.

By Grace Wong, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Online retailers aren't the only ones eager to snare consumers this holiday season.

Shoppers seeking Web bargains and deals during the busy holiday season may unknowingly become attractive lure for fraudsters.

Shop with those you trust
Stick with the reputable online businesses and the bigger vendors and you're likely to reduce your risk.
Secure your computer
Run the latest updates to your computer's anti-virus software, install a firewall and update your operating software.
Avoid debit purchases
Using a debit card leaves your bank account open to vulnerability. Whereas it's easy to get reimbursed for a fraudulent credit card transaction, a bank investigation can take longer.
Be wary of e-mail links
If you receive a message in your inbox directing you to site, don't click through the link - it could be a phishing scam.
Look for encryption
Look for the padlock icon and the "https" before a Web address to make sure the site is secure.
SOURCES: IT Governance Institute, Fortify Software, National Consumers League, NCSA

It's only one week until the Monday after Thanksgiving - also known as Cyber Monday - which generally is one of the busiest online shopping days for retailers like eBay (Charts), Amazon (Charts), Wal-Mart (Charts) and Target (Charts).

It's also a time for the crooks to come out, according to Ron Teixeira, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).

According to the NCSA, one in 10 online adults have been a victim of online fraud, and consumers are even more at risk during the holidays.

"Shopping online has lots of convenience and is a great way to beat holiday traffic, but consumers need to take steps to protect themselves," he said.

One of the most popular types of fraud his organization has seen involves auction sites. Sellers end up not delivering the goods they've received payment for or buyers fail to pay up, Teixeira said.

Fraudsters also take advantage of the goodwill of people during the holidays with charity fraud, he said. One con to watch out for are "phishing" e-mails that look like they're from a charity and trick consumers into giving out their personal data.

Workplace worries

Personal identities aren't the only prize criminals are eyeing.

As online shopping has become more prevalent, consumers have increasingly been making their purchases at work - where they typically have higher-speed Internet connections and can conveniently surf the Web.

Some 61 million people are expected to shop online from work this holiday season, up 18 percent from last year, according to a survey from, a division of the National Retail Federation.

But one wrong move and consumers can unleash viruses, spyware, worms and other destructive programs on their corporate networks, according to Michael Cangemi, former president of the IT Governance Institute, a research think tank.

Those attacks can end up slowing down or locking up a corporate network which is likely to spark the ire of colleagues. Even worse, they can result in the loss of critical data and files, he said. (Check the sidebar for tips on how to shop safely online.)

Many of the bigger retailers are starting to integrate security into their Web sites to provide more defense to attackers, according to Brian Chess, chief scientist at Fortify Software, a security company that helps Internet retailers like Gap (Charts) and Amazon protect their shoppers.

But even if Web sites are taking the right security measures, consumers need to exercise caution.

"If you're sitting in your office and you have a good feeling about your physical safety, that may make you think everything you click is safe - but that's just not the case," he said.

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