A lot of shopping today is done on computers. The computer is also where many scam artists lurk.

Too often individuals think they're impervious to the devious schemes floating in cyber space. They think firewalls will protect them. They feel they can outsmart the scammers. They think they're passwords are enough protection from being duped.

The truth is, there are many ways you can become a victim. Hacking isn't the only method scammers use to pry your personal information from you, including credit card numbers and bank data.

One of the most common methods are fake web sites, designed to look like authentic locations. The sites are not secure and often send the data to con operators in foreign countries.

Local police are helpless in getting your money back. Even federal authorities find it virtually impossible to recover you funds.

It's not something that happens only to others in far-away towns. Here at the TIMES NEWS, we've received numerous complaints from local residents who were victims of thievery over the Internet. There isn't much we can do.

The FBI has issued a warning about such scams:

"From fraudulent auction sales to gift card, phishing, and social networking scams and more, cyber crime schemes are ever-evolving and, unfortunately, still successful."

The FBI has issued some tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud:

Ÿ Purchase merchandise only from reputable sellers, and be suspicious of websites that do not provide contact information; also be wary if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.

Ÿ Do not respond to or click on links contained within unsolicited (spam) e-mail.

Ÿ Be cautious of e-mails claiming to contain pictures in attached files; the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.

Ÿ Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the e-mail instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.

Ÿ Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify that the e-mail is genuine.

Ÿ If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency that requires your attention, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act quickly.

Ÿ Remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The FBI reminds shoppers to exercise due diligence online. Stay alert and beware of cyber criminals and their aggressive and creative ways to steal money and personal information.

Anybody can become victims of scams. Your chances become less if you use caution, exercise common sense, and follow the recommendations that the FBI has given.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com