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Security

This week in online scams

The holiday shopping season is bringing out grinches hoping to part unsuspecting consumers from their money.

The busy holiday shopping season is attracting an unsavory group of entrepreneurs: criminals hoping to part unsuspecting consumers from their money.

According to a survey published in August by the Federal Trade Commission, Internet shoppers tend to be lucrative marks. People shopping online have relatively high incomes and are thus attractive targets for scam artists.

Security experts warn that there are plenty of traps awaiting unsuspecting buyers online. One of the classic examples of holiday fraud trades on shortages. A Web site advertises popular gifts that have become hard to find because of overwhelming demand, and then shuts down and disappears, leaving buyers without their items or their cash.

The spike in holiday traffic also brings a 20 percent rise in the number of attempted security breaches, estimates VeriSign, which provides authentication of Internet transactions.

That traffic plays a part in one fraud scheme, in which scammers use a large number of stolen credit card numbers to make purchases on one site, to make sure those numbers are valid. The fraudsters then use those cards to buy goods at another e-commerce business. Another credit card scam that is increasingly popular, noted Trevor Healy, VeriSign's vice president of payment services, has corrupt employees issuing refunds on numbers that don't exist.

If the threat to e-commerce isn't enough to conjure images of the Grinch in Whoville, then take a look at your in-box. The mass-mailing Christmas e-card virus Zafi.D is clogging huge amounts of bandwidth and now accounts for one in 15 of all e-mails.

In addition, a hoax e-mail circulating the Internet has millions of Americans scurrying to add their cell phones to a national Do Not Call list to avoid telemarketers.