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Avoid Online Grinches on Cyber Monday

The Better Business Bureau offers tips on how to avoid giving online hackers and scammers a shopping bonanza this Christmas shopping season.

If you didn’t get gifts for everybody on your list on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, don’t despair, there’s always Cyber Monday.

In fact, according to shopping experts, that has now become the most popular day to shop for the holidays — and why not? That way you get to avoid all the crowds. However, shopping online opens you up to scammers and hackers just waiting to take advantage of this latest trend.

“The convenience and ease of shopping online has replaced the hassle of going to the store for many people—but online shopping has its own set of risks,” said Fred T. Elsberry Jr., president and CEO of the BBB serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia. “Taking steps to avoid the fraud online will result in a much happier holiday for everyone — except, of course, for scammers and hackers.”

The BBB gives the following 10 tips and reccomendations to avoid becoming a victim of the online grinches this Christmas shopping season.

  1. Protect your computer — A computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
  2. Shop trustworthy websites — Shoppers can start with the BBB to check on the seller’s reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized “trustmarks” on retailer websites and click on the seals to confirm that they are valid.
  3. Protect your personal information — Take the time to read the site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn’t one posted, it should be taken as a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.
  4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true — Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a “deal” that might cost them dearly in the end.
  5. Beware of phishing — Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If you receive such an e-mail, pick up the phone and call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.
  6. Confirm your online purchase is secure — Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, right click anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.
  7. Pay with a credit card — It’s best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Never wire money and only shop locally on sites such as Craigslist.
  8. Keep documentation of your order — After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail. The BBB recommends saving a copy of the Web page and any e-mails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
  9. Check your credit card statements often — Don’t wait for paper statements — the BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by either calling credit card companies or by checking statements online regularly.
  10. Know your rights — Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.

For more advice on staying safe online this holiday season, and to see reports on thousands of online retailers, go to www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-holiday/.

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