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Scam Alert

Online Shopping Crimes and Misdemeanors

7 ways to avoid being a victim in cyberspace

And while most online shopping cons affect buyers, sellers on Craigslist and other sites continue to fall for the "overpayment scam." In that one, you receive a fake payment check that's for more than the agreed amount for what you're selling. You're asked to wire back the difference. You oblige and only find out many days later that the check was counterfeit. Any money you've sent is gone forever.

I could go on — there are other techniques. But with some simple precautions, you can give yourself a safer online buying and selling experience.

1. Pay with a credit card. A credit card provides more protection than a debit card should a purchase prove fraudulent or shoddy — you can stop payment. PayPal, which acts as intermediary between you and the seller, is another good option for frequent online shoppers. Paying with a debit card potentially gives cyber crooks access to your entire bank account — you're providing an account number, which in the wrong hands could be used to make instant withdrawals over and above what you authorized.

And never, never wire money. It's scammers' preferred way of pocketing your money.

2. Read the fine print. Even when you're dealing with reputable retailers, check the privacy policies of their websites so you can stay away from any that sell your personal data to third parties. Also read — before redeeming — the terms of any online coupons or offers. That "$10 off your next purchase" coupon might involve an automatic sign-up with a retailer's or partner's program, resulting in monthly charges for an unwanted service.

3. Use a dedicated email address for shopping. Buying something online may result in the merchant flooding your email box with come-ons to buy more. To avoid this at your primary email address, get an account from free mail services such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail to use just for online shopping.

Next: Keep your information private online. >>

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