Dickenson says you may receive e-mails from scammers disguised as your friends who share links to the latest celebrity gossip stories or breaking news items. Beware! "Recent examples include links to pictures or videos of Michael Jackson, and phony pleas for charity donations in the late pop star's name. Expect to see the same thing for the next big news story."
In fact, malware distributors are using Facebook and Twitter to send fake messages saying a friend reported a friend for violating Facebook rules. By hitting the included link, you unload malicious programs straight into your computer!
Start from scratch. Clicking on a link in an email or double-clicking on a pop-up may not be wise. Instead, type in the name of your favorite shopping website to get started. Dickenson notes, "Clicking on links in emails is a risky way to start an online shopping excursion -- the links may be fake."
When shopping online, beware of little mom-and-pop shops and unfamiliar, hokey websites. "Shop on 'name-brand' websites that are well known and have a distinctive look and feel," says Dickenson. He adds the importance of checking the address bar in the browser and ensuring it reads "https://" followed by the name of the website and ".com." If these aren't there, the website is likely a fake.
By purchasing from reputable websites, you're ensuring that the items you buy are what you'll receive. Of course, double-check the items in your shopping cart to ensure you're purchasing the desired quantity and item. Other online sites such as eBay have some risk associated, though eBay has a resolution center if you need to escalate matters to a higher level. Classified ad sites like Craigslist carry the most risk. Dickenson says, "They depend much more on buyers contacting sellers and satisfying themselves that the sellers are legitimate. Craigslist points users to government organizations like the FTC to resolve fraud issues."
If you're not at home and simply must purchase an item on the road, remember to log out of any sites you use when you are on a public computer. Vary your passwords. Dickensen says that if you use one password for absolutely everything and someone gets a hold of it, they'll be able to make purchases on your behalf as well as commit identity theft.
Albert Wu, founder of Silkfair.com, also notes a basic truth to passwords: Avoid writing them down or sharing passwords. "It sounds simple, but you'd be amazed at how IDs and passwords are handled. A password should be something that's not personal... something that's not readily selected based on common words. They should include uncommon characters intermixed." He also mentions the importance of visiting sites that are known to be secure. For instance, his site is scanned daily and probed by McAfee's HackerSafe service to detect vulnerabilities.
Something as simple as ensuring your antivirus and anti-spyware programs are current on your computer may save you a lot of grief. Just look for the icon in your system tray, double-click on it and see what the program says about security settings. Before continuing to shop, run a full scan and bring it up to date if it has expired.
Above all, Dickensen reminds us to not use one computer for everything in your household. "This can be a tough one, but banking and shopping on the same computer the kids use to play games and download music is just asking for trouble. Kids will download the darndest things -- including malware -- without realizing."
Since few of us can afford a computer for each family member, consider investing in a Netbook laptop that you reserve only for shopping, banking and, of course, checking out the latest shopping articles on SheKnows.com.
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