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Avoid the 'gotchas' of online shopping

Online holiday shopping will again break records this year, with buyers expected to purchase more than a quarter of all their gifts online, according to the National Retail Federation.

That means online criminals also are anticipating a record haul this year, particularly from Newbies. Fraudsters love Newbies.

During the holidays, many folks who rarely use computers take the electronic shopping plunge for the first time, and they are ripe for picking by the crooks.

Perhaps you know all about how to keep yourself safe online, but maybe there’s someone in your life who doesn’t -- someone who might try to buy something from a con artist’s Web site or who doesn’t know about the sneaky fees often attached to gift cards.

This is a good time for a few helpful reminders, and perhaps this video can help.

Hard data on online fraud rates is hard to come by, and some of it is an outright exaggeration. The National Cyber Security Alliance – a consortium of online companies -- issued a press release in November saying that one in 10 Internet users “could become a victim of online fraud this year.” Even I have a hard time believing that figure. But I’m sure the problem is massive; I can tell from all the e-mails I receive from online victims.

I know many wise Net users think, “Who would ever fall for a phishing e-mail?”

You’ be surprised. Millions of people have. And the holidays are the easiest time for phishers to strike, because online sites are sending millions of legitimate e-mails to consumers, making it even harder than normal to tell the difference between real e-mail and a fake ones.

With legitimate e-mails confirming purchases or letting shoppers know that their items have shipped flooding inboxes, it’s easy for criminals to mimic them and trick recipients into offering up personal information.

That’s just one way criminals can ruin holiday season. There are plenty more. So if you or someone you love could use a quick refresher course in online shopping safety, watch the attached video, with help from NBC producer Andy Gross, editor Ed Eaves, and graphics artist Corey Hall.

Then have a safe shopping season.