Little compares with the convenience of pointing and clicking through holiday shopping lists, but consumers could pay a steep price for cyber shopping if they don''t protect personal data.
Experts estimate that 55 million Americans will spend $12.5 billion online this holiday season, nearly double last year''s total.
But as consumers become more Web savvy, so too have criminals, said the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC), a non-profit group supported by the property/casualty insurance industry.
"Hackers, cyber-crooks and con-artists can turn holiday cheer into financial hardship," said IINC. "Personal information can be sold, credit card numbers accessed and identities stolen -- all while consumers unsuspectingly buy gifts online.
Last year, consumers reported losing more than $3.2 million to Internet fraud.
To avoid being a victim of a cyber-crime, IINC offers the following safety tips for online shopping:
- Only give out your credit card number on secure Web pages.
- Shop with companies you know and trust. Verify contact information and check references for any prospective sellers with which you are not familiar.
- Pay attention to the address of the merchant''s site. Check the URL to ensure that you are dealing with the correct company.
- Never give out your social security number.
- Consider using a second e-mail address for online transactions.
- Don''t use the same password. If you have to create a password for an account, create one that is different from those on your other accounts.
by Virginia Sutcliffe