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RISMEDIA, Dec. 4, 2008-(MCT)-Holiday shopping has begun and everyone is out looking for a steal. And that includes criminals.

Internet users will get the usual barrage of offers that are too good to be true. Some will be deals, but others will be duds in the form of cyber criminals.

These bad guys will multiply their efforts this year to get shoppers to give out personal information, according to experts at Trend Micro, an Internet security firm. The struggling economy is giving crooks more incentive for ripping people off and stealing their identity online.

Just how prevalent is online crime? Try $3 billion taken by scammers last year, Trend Micro reports. What’s making the chance for this number to be higher this year is that consumers with less money to spend are being more aggressive to sign up for a bargain-and the crooks know this.

Here are some scams to avoid, according to Trend Micro:

- Messages that say things like: “Your package is ready to ship. Please update your account information,” “Your mom’s holiday e-card is only a few clicks away,” or “Register to win a $5,000 holiday shopping spree.”
- Requests to call a number to provide personal and financial information.
- Requests for personal information verification due to a bank merger.
- E-mails with sales information for hard to find toys and gadgets like the Wii.
- Fake online shopping portals.

The safer way to shop online is to go directly to the retailer’s website through the Web address instead of clicking a link. If you’re not sure of an offer, call the retailer. And don’t enter personal or financial information into a form that is included in an e-mail.

Trend Micro also advises avoiding: surveys that ask for personal information, e-mails with misspellings, 800 numbers to call to claim a prize and unknown senders of e-cards.

Finally, keep your anti-virus software updated and running. These programs can often detect bad sites.

Shopping online can be convenient, but like going to the mall, keep an eye on your surroundings and keep your information safe. One mistake can have longer-lasting implications, such as a damaged credit score or money missing from your bank account.

Alexandra Zega - Realtor - Keller Williams

(story Courtesy of Dan Serra)