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Those aren’t elves, they’re crooks! Surf warily while hunting holiday gifts

There is no road map for the Internet, which makes it hard to tell the good guys from the bad, especially when all you’re trying to do is save time and money by shopping online.

With some Internet watchdogs predicting up to 12 percent growth in online shopping this year, it’s important to be extra vigilant when surfing for Santa’s deals.

"The problem with the Web is that it didn’t come with any gestalt. (There is) nothing to let you know where you are on the Net," said David Perry, global director of education for Trend Micro, an Internet security software company with offices in Cupertino, Calif. "There is nothing to make you say ‘Oh, I’m in a bad neighborhood.’"

Perry said people need to stay sharp while surfing the Net. "If you feel unsure about anything, go to another site. Stay away from unknown retailers and don’t buy anything from anyone that approaches you with unsolicited e-mail, pop-ups or Web pages.

"Don’t buy any wooden nickels. Most of these are all old scams, and most are really stupid. If someone tells you can buy a Rolex watch for $20, you can’t. And if you bite, they may end up stealing all your money."

Perry has been following and trying to keep a step ahead of online scammers for more than 20 years, and he said the bad guys today are really bad. "The amount of criminal activity online has skyrocketed," Perry said. "Twenty years ago, there were three or four scams a month. That worked its way steadily upward to where there are 70,000 new pieces of malware every day.

The whole thing has been taken over by professional criminals. It’s no longer a hacker in somebody’s basement. Now it’s the Russian mafia." He said a popular Web crime tool of today is a "key logger."

This is a piece of software planted on Web sites that capture a user’s keystrokes, then relays personal information to the criminals. A recent example of this type of cybercrime is the "Italian Job" case.

"Bad guys in Russia broke into an Italian Web hosting agency and effected 10,000 Web sites," he said. "Over a weekend they grabbed information from 15,000 to 20,000 end users by planting key loggers."

Perry said he doesn’t know of any notable scams for the holiday rush, but suspects smartphone shoppers may become targets. His safety tips for online holiday shoppers’ safety includes:

• Use PayPal if shopping on eBay. "PayPal gives refunds if you don’t get your goods, and it’s safer than your credit card," Perry said.

• Don’t be fooled by anything that promises something too good to be true.

• Look out for messages claiming you returned something and they are offering a refund. He said the bad guys may masquerade as the United Parcel Service, FedEx or even the Internal Revenue Service. "These people are bold. They will claim to be anyone."

• Get and use protection software. He’s touting his company’s TrendSecure (www.trendsecure.com), but there are others. This software checks for malware on your computer and rates the security of Web sites as you visit them.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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