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updated 5/5/2011 7:19:02 PM ET 2011-05-05T23:19:02

Online criminals love a good party. From Valentine's Day and Easter to Hanukkah and Christmas, anytime you and your loved ones are getting together, you can be sure these digital devils are celebrating too.

Why are they so happy? Because they know you're likely going to shop online for a gift, and if they play their cards right -- and you play yours wrong -- the criminals will be laughing all the way to your bank.

With Mother's Day right around the corner, here are some tips from security experts on how to use the Web to buy a great gift for Mom without getting scammed in the process.

Know where you're shopping

"Cybercriminals know people shop online all the time, which is why they are leveraging this information to try and trick users with various online scams," Catalin Cosoi, head of the online threats lab for the security firm BitDefender explained.

One way they do this -- especially around major holidays -- is by creating fake online shops.

"These online locations advertise fictitious products, and when purchased, they take a consumer's money without ever delivering the purchased item," the security firm BitDefender explained.

BitDefender suggests you research a website and confirm its legitimacy before you hand over your credit card information for Mom's gift.

A quick way to tell if your online store is scamming you is to look at the URL in the address bar. In most cases, online retail stores encrypt their Web traffic with an "HTTPS" connection. The letters will show up in green before the name of the site, with the symbol of a padlock next to them. If you don’t see it, shop elsewhere.

The same advice applies when shopping on a mobile device. Because of their limited size, smartphones often only display partial URLs. If you're inputting your financial information, first make sure the site is not a fake.

And avoid online shopping while using public Wi-Fi, such as in coffee shops. Hackers can take over these Wi-Fi networks in as little as five seconds.

Know what you want

If you go into a department store with no idea what you're looking for and you appear even the slightest bit vulnerable, a salesperson, sensing an easy catch, will most likely try to convince you to buy things you didn't even know you wanted. (Take it from experience.)

Leading up to a big shopping holiday like Mother's Day, you should think of the Internet in the same way. The salespeople are hounding you, except this time the deals are better. The deals are so good, in fact, that they seem unbelievable.

Well, it's because they are. Crafty online thieves know you're likely to browse the Web for the best deals for your Mother's Day gift, and, without fail, they will always have the top prices. You'll see these offers in spam emails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, or even pop-ups.

Don't be fooled by the array of too-good-to-be-true "sales." With targeted phishing emails, it's easy for a cybercriminal to quickly spread a malware campaign through Facebook.

BitDefender recommends people avoid unsolicited offers, and don't click on shopping-related links on social networks, even from your "friends"; links are often rigged to include malware that can open a backdoor into your computer and access your personal information.

Watch for greedy greeting cards

"Electronic greeting cards are the perfect, green way to show people that you care about them. However, increasingly, malware-bundled greeting cards are being sent by spammers to trick unsuspecting users," BitDefender warns.

Often, online crooks rig legitimate looking e-cards with dangerous links and attachments that, if opened, could automatically drop harmful computer viruses on your system.

"What might look like a nice e-card in your inbox could actually be malware," BitDefender writes.

Rigged e-cards are particularly dangerous because of their very innocence -- there's no financial transaction to worry about, and whoever's sending it must really love you, right?

Moms, before you open your e-cards, make sure they come from a trusted source, and don't open any attachments.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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