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December 9, 2012

Be aware of scareware as you enjoy safe holiday shopping

NORMAN — Every year about this time I have to reassess the Internet Christmas shopping situation.

Billions of dollars, in electronic form, are flying down wires, through the air and across the Internet, more this time of year than any other. This keeps the Internet bad guys busy, too, working on newer ways to steal your money.

“Scareware” (software designed to scare you into doing something) is one of the biggest threats this season. There you are, merrily bouncing from one shopping website to the next, when, suddenly, a window pops up telling you your computer has multiple viruses, or “registry errors” have been found, or the FBI has scanned your computer and is fining you for illegal activity. The bad guys are hoping these scams will scare you into paying them for phony repairs you don’t really need. To learn how to thwart scareware scams, read the column on my website titled, “Careful where you click,” from March, 2011.

Identity theft is another danger, and shoppers should move cautiously. However, it is possible to be too paranoid. A survey by Consumer Reports Webwatch shows that, due to concerns about identity theft, many people have stopped buying things online and even reduced their overall use of the Internet. While these paranoid measures are no doubt effective, they’re a bit like me avoiding getting mugged by never leaving the house.

To put things in perspective, many of the greatest dangers regarding identity theft have come, not from careless practices on the part of individual Internet users, but from lax security practices by major corporations. Bank of America, MCI, Choicepoint, TJ Maxx, Wachovia, Visa and American Express are only part of a huge list of organizations that have “accidentally” exposed the private financial information of millions of customers to criminals. However, these incidents, for the most part, had nothing to do with the Internet or scary hackers.

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