Every year, more people head online rather than to the mall to get their holiday shopping done. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, has officially replaced Black Friday as the most popular day to shop for the holidays. Shopping online means avoiding the crowds, but it also opens up the buyer to attacks from scammers and hackers.
The BBB recommends the following top 10 tips for shopping online this holiday season to help fight unscrupulous online retailers, scammers and hackers:
1. Protect your computer. Always have a secure firewall and the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
2. Shop on trustworthy websites. Start at bbb.org to check on the seller’s reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Look for the BBB logo and other widely-recognized third-party verification seals on retailer websites, but click through to make sure they are real (some rogue sites plagiarize seals to look legitimate). Remember, a glitzy website doesn’t always mean a legitimate business. Look on the contact information for a physical address and a phone number. It’s a good idea to call that phone number to see if you can actually get through to someone or if you just get redirected back to the website without reaching a real, live person.
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 this year’s hot gifts and other hard-to-find items. Unsolicited emails often direct you to look-alike sites that aren’t who they pretend to be.
5. Beware of phishing. Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure you into revealing financial information. If you receive such an e-mail, the BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to see if there really is a problem with the transaction.
6. Confirm that your online purchase is secure. Make sure you are on a secure site by checking in the address box for the “s” in https:// and/or for the “lock” symbol before paying. Still not sure? Try right-clicking anywhere on the page and select “Properties” or “View Page Info”. 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; under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don’t receive the item. Your also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on your credit card. If you are going to shop on classified ad web sites like Craigslist, never wire money and only buy locally where you can see the item before you hand over your money.
8. Keep documentation of your order. Save the final confirmation page or confirmation e-mail. You should also save 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; check for suspicious activity by looking at online statements regularly or calling your credit card companies.
10. Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made online or by mail or phone 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 you do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if you 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/.