(SAN DIEGO) While 138 million people are expected to hit the ground shopping this holiday weekend, many Americans are waiting until "Cyber Monday," when hundreds of online retailers post some major discounts. Experts warn that this is also prime time for identity thieves.
"This is the time so many people don't realize they're going to fall prey to these guys," said Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.
Last year, cyber-thieves made off with more than $48 billion in fraudulent on-line credit and debit card charges. Foley predicts they will be out in full force come Cyber Monday.
"They're going to be sending out leads to 'great deals,'" Foley added. "They're going to be cloning web sites. It will look like a legitimate Target web site, legitimate Wal-Mart site... or Best Buy site."
What they really are, according to Foley: clever copies of the real deal, sometimes offering suspiciously lower prices than the actual stores...
"It's just there so you can put your information in," he said. "Once they've got it, they're going to town.
Foley suggests you know whom you're doing business with.
"When you start cyber-shopping, the first thing you want to make sure of is that you're at a legitimate web site," Foley said. He said security systems like "Trend Micro" can take the guess work out of it and tell you if a site's url is really a cyber-trap.
"Verify the site that you're dealing with, because the last thing you want to do is share your personal information with the bad guy," he said.
You should also do your own background check by going to Google.
"I put the company's name in there and I hit 'enter'," he said. "Everything good and everything bad about that company comes up for my review."
Also: never pay with a debit card, which does not always have the same legal protections against fraud as a credit card?" Foley said.
"What is easier to do: argue with a credit card company about an erroneous charge, or argue with a bank to get that money back in your account so you can pay your mortgage?"
And beware of unsolicited emails offering special deals: they are most likely a "phishing' expedition. Instead, head for the "delete" button.
Experts also advise you to check your credit card accounts on-line every couple days or so to monitor it for any fraudulent activity.
For a link to the Identity Theft Resource Center go to: www.idtheftcenter.org
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