Tips to Avoid Holiday Online Shopping Scams

It’s that time of year again, and even though Halloween has barely shuffled its costumed, candy-eating visage out the proverbial door, wavetaxi plenty of people are already proceeding full-speed ahead with holiday shopping. As anyone who has ever braved the mall crowds between November and January knows, it is much more comfortable and convenient to shop from the comfort of your own home, via the wonderful internet. But is it safer?

Online shopping has increased in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the National Retail Foundation expects almost half of this year’s holiday purchases to be made via the internet. But careless consumers may get more than they bargain for if they log on without taking a few precautions. Phishing scams are especially prevalent around the holidays, as cyber criminals strive to take advantage of consumers looking for sale prices and savings opportunities, and the sheer number of vendor options online increase the chances of buying from a fake or unscrupulous retailer, and either losing money or getting poor-quality merchandise.

OnguardOnline, an internet safety awareness campaign run by The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the technology industry, tampacomputerstore has compiled a set of online shopping guidelines to protect consumers and minimize the risks associated with internet retail:

* Be familiar with the retailer and make sure the site is legitimate. Don’t enter financial or personal information into any popup windows that happen to appear while browsing – legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email or pop-ups.

* Read all the fine print in a product description to make sure you’re getting what you want and that the item is in the condition you’re looking for.

* Compare prices on different sites and remember to factor in shipping costs when budgeting your spending money.

* Pay by credit or charge card. Do not send cash or a check with your bank account number. OnguardOnline states that “if you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows you to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating. In the event your credit or charge card is used without your knowledge and permission, you generally are liable for no more than $50 in charges per card. Many companies do not hold consumers responsible for any unauthorized charges made online, and some card issuers may provide additional warranty, return, and/or purchase protection benefits.” Debit card transactions may not fall under protection by this law, so check with your bank to determine their policies on debit fraud.

* Study the sites transaction policies, including refund information, delivery and shipping options, restocking fees, and return policies. Make sure the company’s policies match your needs before placing an order. Also, study a company’s privacy policy to find out how the company intends to use your information and whether or not it plans to distribute the information to other companies or individuals.

* Print copies of your transaction receipts, email correspondence, and the product description and price, and save them.

* Check your credit card statements for a few months after the holidays for any unauthorized charges.

* Do not submit financial information to an unsecured website. The “lock” icon in the URL window is a good indicator that the site is secure, but you should be aware that it is possible to fake a security indicator and the site may not be secure after all.

* Install and run updated antivirus software and a secure firewall to protect your computer from viruses, spam, and hackers.

Most corporate stores have an option to shop online. For instance, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s, Toys R Us, Best Buy, and even Target all allow consumers to shop and buy online. Likewise, all-purpose sites such as are generally safe and secure, and have their holiday shipping process down to a science, leaving you little to worry about. Some places even gift-wrap your purchases.


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