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Column: Holiday shopping scams to watch for

Q: What scams should I watch for this holiday shopping season?

A:  The predictions for the 2015 holiday shopping season continue to suggest that we’ll see record spending when it comes to online shopping.

This isn’t lost on cyber-criminals, as they gear up to take advantage of the additional online traffic as well.

Holiday scams continue to get more sophisticated, making it very important that you play close attention if you’re one of the millions who will be making purchases online.

The typical advice of making sure you’re on a secured site (https://) certainly holds true, but most browsers will automatically load secure pages when they are available these days.

Making sure your computer is free of malware before engaging in purchases is also a good idea to avoid being victimized by key loggers that can silently record everything you’re typing.

The most common attempts to compromise you this year will likely come from phishing scams, fake charity websites, fake online retailers and credit card or gift card scams.

Expect to see a lot of fake shipping scams that pose as e-mail updates from shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx, since we’re all likely to receive deliveries from them.

When you make an online purchase, a tracking number is generally included with your online receipt. The only way you should ever track a package is by manually going to the shipper’s website and typing in your tracking number.

Any email that appears to be from a delivery company should always be viewed with great suspicion, especially if an attachment is included.

The holiday season is a charitable season, so expect to see lots of appeals via email and social media for contributions. Before donating to any charity you’re not familiar with, use sites such as https://Give.org or http://www.charitynavigator.org to make sure they’re legit.

And watch for fake online retailers, especially as time gets short for finding popular gift items. They will create very legitimate-looking sites that offer great last-minute deals on hard-to-get items; they prey on your desperation.

Many of these sites may even appear in Google ads and search results, but if you make the online purchase, you’ll never see the item. If you can’t find any physical addresses or phone numbers on a site, you probably shouldn’t do business with them.

Reputation add-ons to your browser from sites such as Web Of Trust can help you quickly identify sites that are questionable.

Offers for ‘incredible deals’ on credit cards and gift cards are another thing you can count on seeing, especially on social media.

Many of your friends’ Facebook accounts could be compromised during the shopping season, leading to ‘OMG, what a great deal’ type posts that need to always be viewed with skepticism.

For maximum protection, avoid using your debit card for any online purchases, just in case you become a victim of fraud. Debit cards offer the same protection, but having an empty bank account while the bank straightens things out will lead to bounced car, mortgage or rent payments.

Editor’s Note: Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services.

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