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Christmas Gift Guide
Tech Industry

Holiday shoppers, beware

Attorney Eric J. Sinrod warns of an imminent parade of horribles: identity theft, viruses, phishing, worms and spyware.

Yes, it is time to dig deep into your wallets and fork over some cash to spread mirth and merriment this holiday season.

And there could be no easier way to buy gifts than to do so online, right? But if you do not take prudent steps, bad things could happen. Keep reading.

Forrester Research predicts that online holiday shopping will increase a whopping 25 percent this year, with 2.5 million households making online purchases for the first time. Meanwhile, online privacy watchdog group Truste reports that 78 percent of Internet users in the United States will conduct some of their shopping online.

Of course, a greater number of online purchases could translate into a larger parade of horribles, including identity theft, viruses, phishing, worms and spyware. Fears related to these risks have led 40 percent of consumers not to make purchases from small online retailers, 22 percent not to make any online purchases, and 14 percent to substantially limit online spending, according to Truste.

Perhaps these fears are well-founded, as a survey by Consumer Reports indicates that Internet users face a 33 percent chance of experiencing financial loss, computer damage or both due to viruses, spyware or hackers. These are fairly sobering statistics.

What is an online shopper to do? Bottom line: Be smart and try to abide by these practical tips from the CEO of home networking company Sereniti:

• Print copies of all online receipts so that they can be checked against credit card bills.

• Print copies of all guarantees and warranties.

• Do not respond to e-mails asking customers for personal information. Businesses and financial institutions rarely reach out on their own seeking such information. It is better to contact a business directly on your own.

• Online retailers that display Truste and Better Business Bureau seals likely are to be trusted to safeguard personal information.

• Note whether Web sites begin with "https" instead of "http" in the browser area and whether they display a padlock icon in the lower right-hand border of the browser window, as this indicates secure encryption to protect customer identities.

• If possible, avoid providing Social Security numbers online.

• Make sure that online retailers have solid privacy polices that make clear their customers' information will not be sold or transferred after a transaction occurs.

Follow these tips, drink some eggnog, spend your money, and have a happy holiday season.