Top 10 tips to avoid identity theft, internet & email scams this holiday shopping season

To help consumers protect themselves while shopping online this holiday season and year round, CyberDefender Corporation offers advice to ensure online shopping is a happy experience.

* Don’t shop online while using an unencrypted or open wireless network. Hackers and thieves can use your open/unencrypted or a store’s wireless network to break into your computer and capture your financial information.

* Secure your computer before shopping online. Before connecting to the Internet or shopping online, take the following three core protections: 1) Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and keep them up to date; 2) Install a firewall; 3) Regularly update operating software.

* Know whom you’re dealing with. Before shopping online with an unknown e-store, check out the seller and be sure to get the name and physical address of the seller in case something goes wrong. If you’re buying gifts on an online auction site, check the track record of the seller before you bid.

* Don’t give away your financial information to unsecured websites. Make sure when providing payment information, the beginning of the Web site URL address changes from http to https, indicating that the purchase is encrypted or secured.

* Protect personal information with common sense and technology. Be suspicious if someone unexpectedly asks for personal information. Identity thieves send out bogus emails about problems with consumers’ accounts to lure them into divulging personal information. Consider using multi-factor authentication services when offered by online retailers as a way to secure your information.

* When buying items from a Web site or a catalog, check whether the company has an operating customer service number (preferably toll free), and lists an actual street address of its business. A company operating on a “fly by night” basis is more likely than legitimate companies to have no working telephone number or to list only a P.O. Box as its address.

* Print and save all verifications sent to you by on-line retailers from which you ordered merchandise or services.

* If you are not familiar with the seller or the Web site, do some research. You can contact the Better Business Bureau in the state where the company is located (by telephone or at, and investigate the number and nature of complaints against the seller. Sometimes, a basic Internet search will reveal an actual chat room or Web site (commonly called “gripe-sites”) on which civic-minded fellow consumers have posted complaints warning of a company’s practices.

* Be particularly wary of vendors at on-line auctions selling “hot” kids’ items. During 1999, for instance, there was a flood of victims who were scammed with offers for the year’s popular “beanie babies” dolls. In 2000, similar scam artists advertised the Sony PlayStation 2, but did not deliver.

* When shopping at online auctions, consider safeguarding yourself by purchasing “escrow” protection, available through many auction services. Such protection, which often costs a small percentage of the purchase price, guarantees that no money is released to the vendor until you have actually received the product you purchased. Do not rely completely on the auction site’s “user feedback” to evaluate whether you should trust the seller. While occasionally helpful, these statements are easy to manufacture and usually will not identify any instances in which a cyber-thief scammed victims using other User ID’s or names.

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