It looks like a banner year for online Christmas buying, but look out for the scams

Associated Press • Nov 12, 2012 at 4:32 AM

The National Retail Federation estimates that online sales during the upcoming holiday season will increase 12 percent over 2011 to $96 billion. More than half of consumers surveyed said they would shop for gifts online, the highest number ever.

Unfortunately, these kinds of projections are music to the ears of online scammers. On Cyber Monday in 2011, federal law enforcement agencies busted 150 counterfeit merchandising websites — an increase from 82 in 2010. The sites were peddling knock-off sports jerseys, handbags, sunglasses and other items.

Online shoppers also have to be wary of real, but shoddy, Internet sellers and of websites and emails designed to steal their identities or download malware to their computers. The Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance offer the following tips for shopping safely online:

Check out sellers: Research online sellers before buying. Check them out with the BBB at bbb.org.Make sure the site is secure: Before you enter your personal and financial information to make an online transaction, look for signs that the site is secure. This includes a closed padlock on your web browser's address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. Never use unsecured wireless networks to make an online purchase.

Protect your personal information: Before providing personal or financial information, check the website's privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.

Use safe payment options: Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn't delivered or isn't what was ordered. Also, unlike debit cards, credit cards may have a limit on the monetary amount you will be responsible for paying if your information is stolen and used by someone else.

Review return policies: You want a no-hassle ability to return items.

Keep a paper trail: Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale, and copies of any email exchange with the seller.

Turn your computer off when you're finished shopping: Many people leave their computers running and connected to the Internet all day and night. This gives scammers 24/7 access to your computer to install malware and commit cyber crimes. To be safe, turn off your computer when it's not in use.

Be wary of emails requesting information: Attackers may attempt to gather information by sending emails requesting that you confirm purchase or account information. Legitimate businesses will not solicit this type of information through email.

Keep a clean machine: Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.

Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password. Using separate passwords for every account helps thwart cybercriminals.

When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. Don't click on links or download attachments unless you're absolutely sure that the message is legitimate.

Share these tips with your kids who may be technically savvy but naive about scams.

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