Who Needs Guns When You’ve Got Keyboards?

Internet shopping may well reach records highs this holiday season. This influx of business is welcomed by online retailers and criminals alike. Criminals believe that online shoppers are vulnerable to their scams – and they’re right. These aren’t the crooks of yesteryear, today’s thieves don’t need guns – they’ve got technology.

In the last year internet fraud and identity theft have become more widespread than ever. Despite the risks many shoppers choose to do the bulk of their holiday buying online. Who can blame them? There’s nothing worse than standing for hours in line at a department store, battling raging drivers in traffic, or having to travel to several stores just to find one item (wasting gas and money in the process).

When it comes to shopping online the best advice is “buyer beware.” A 2007 survey reported the number of consumers taken in by bogus offers increased by 40 percent between the 2006 and 2007 holiday seasons. Three percent of the adults surveyed said that they lost money from phishing scam. Last year the overall costs to consumers of online fraud surpassed $3 billion, compared with $2 billion the year before.

The New Year is fast approaching, and analysts expect that consumers will pay more than ever before the 2008-2009 losses are totaled. In the meantime, shoppers can benefit from increasing their awareness of internet scams.

Top Holiday Internet Scams
Don’t be fooled by bogus websites that are set up to look like real ones. These sites likely offer all the Christmas gifts you could ever want at prices lower than you ever imagined. The sales pages on these websites look like the real thing, including heartfelt testimonials, and advertisements boasting top-of-the-line security. You order products, give your payment info, and then never see product or receive a refund.

Learn how to tell a real site from a dummy site. If you don’t recognize the business, check it out. Prices that are so low they don’t seem realistic probably aren’t. Consider using a one-time card number issued by your credit card company if you do make the purchase. Even if you do lose your money you’ll be keeping your financial details away from the bad guys.

Holiday cheer can often invoke that warm fuzzy feeling that makes you want to help people in need. Criminals know this, and they thrive off peoples’ generosity. One way they do this is by sending out “phishing” emails advertising themselves as a charitable organization hoping for a holiday donation. While many people are savvy to phishing scams, other are too distracted by photos of starving children with distended bellies, and frail, mal-nourished puppies. In their haste to help these poor creatures, victims may be quick to give out their personal and financial information. Alas, it’s possible that none of the money will go towards helping children or animals, and, instead, land in the pocket of a low-life scam artist.

Even if you’re as busy as most people tend to be during the holidays, you probably have time to do a quick Google search to verify the integrity of a site or organization. It’s likely that someone has already discovered the scam, and your search engine protects you by pulling up the scam-uncovering results first.

Let’s face it – this holiday season people are broke. For many, the financial bind has been such a strain that they are forced to seek a loan just to purchase holiday gifts. Sometimes applying for a loan online can end up in disaster. Watch out for outfits that ask you to wire money to them before granting the loan. In cases of an online scam loan, the “company” may ask you for an initial securing fee, and then tell you that due to your credit you need to give them an additional sum before they can grant the loan. This scam is all too common, especially during the holiday season.

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