Online Fraud Red Flags
The Internet is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers shopping that can be just as safe as stores or mail orders. But unless consumers learn to identify online fraud indicators, those who buy online can open themselves up to the same scams that are common with offline shopping.
On the Web, cyberspace crooks have the potential to perpetuate scams quickly, leaving no paper trails and bypassing all geographic boundaries. Some common “red flags” that strongly suggest a potential online scam include the following:
- “It’s Now or Never”/First Come, First Served. Beware of pressure for an immediate response or frantic claims of limited availability. Any legitimate company will give you time to make a wise purchasing decision. Look on the Web for a reliability seal from an online consumer protection group such as BBBOnLine and do some background checking before you buy.
- No Mail Please. If a seller requests payment in cash by a private courier or by check or money order through an overnight delivery service, be suspicious. He or she could be trying to get around postal fraud laws.
- “Free” for a Price. Don’t trust an offer for “free” products or services that later asks you to send money or pay an upfront fee.
- Dazzling Presentation. Scam business advertisements, particularly those sent by e-mail, are often brimming with excessive CAPITAL LETTERS, dollar $ign$ and !!!exclamation points!!!. It’s also not uncommon for these ads to include misspellings or grammatical errors. Con artists hope that a glitzy Web site or flashy e-mail ad will blind consumers into falling for a scam.
- “Get Rich Quick” Appeals. Con artists know exactly how to scam consumers who want to make big money quick with little work or effort. The explosion of e-commerce and internet-related businesses has made it easy for cyberspace crooks to con eager buyers into believing that hundreds of dollars invested in an Internet business will instantly turn into thousands of dollars in profit over night. But the only person likely to make easy money in such schemes is the con artist.
Online Shopping Tips
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, over $300 billion in business will be conducted over the Internet during the first decade of the new millennium. Chances are good that you’ll be one of those people making a purchase online soon, if you haven’t already. Here are some tips to help ensure that your cybershopping experience is a safe and satisfying one:
- Location, Location. If you're interested in trying a new online merchant who you’re not familiar with, ask the company for its physical location (address and phone number) so that you can check on its reliability with outside organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and consumer agencies.
- Customer Satisfaction Policy. Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order. If online companies can’t offer concrete commitments on how they will handle any potential problems you may have with their products or services, reconsider doing business with them.
- Protect Your Passwords. Never give out your Internet password. When creating a password, avoid using established numbers, such as your house number, birth date, or your telephone or Social Security numbers. If the site asks you to create an account with a password, never use the same password you use for other accounts or sites.
- Leave Nothing to Chance. Be sure you have a thorough understanding of everything involved before making an order. Be clear on the price and any shipping and handling charges. Know the terms of any product or service guarantees. Find out how long it will be before you receive your order. Federal law requires that goods and services be delivered within 30 days, unless a different delivery period is specifically stated by the merchant.
- Guard Your Personal Information. Only provide your credit card information or Social Security number online in a secure environment. Look for the prefix https:// . . . in the Uniform Resource Locator box which lists the website’s web address to be sure that a site you are using is secure.
- Check For Reliability. Check a company out with your Better Business Bureau. For the phone number or address of your nearest BBB. Also look for a reliability seal from a reputable online consumer protection program such as BBBOnLine (www.bbbonline.org).
- Keep a Paper Trail. Print out the "address" of the company site you are on—its Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL ensures that you are dealing with the right company. It's also a good idea to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
- Know Your Consumer Rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace. Under the law, a company must ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If you decide to pay by credit card or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you are not comfortable entering your credit or charge card account number online, call it in to the company's 800 number or fax it.
Protecting Your Privacy
If a company does not let its customers, who shop on the Internet, know its information privacy guidelines upfront, it will have a hard time doing business online in the 21st century. That’s why many online businesses are participating in online privacy seal programs like the one offered by BBBOnLine.
You leave cyber “footprints” where- ever you go on the Internet, allowing sophisticated merchants to collect significant data on your potential interests and buying habits.
Companies who are approved to participate in the BBBOnLine Privacy Program must post online privacy policies that meet rigorous privacy principles, open themselves up to monitoring and review, and agree to participate in consumer dispute resolution. In return, they are allowed to display a privacy seal, on their e-commerce Web sites to let their customers know that their consumer privacy will be protected and respected. The privacy seal at right is displayed by companies whose Web sites are directed specifically towards children.
With its 87 year history of encouraging self-regulation and promotion of ethical business practices, the Better Business Bureau has developed BBBOnLine, whose purpose is to help businesses and consumers navigate the often uncharted waters of Internet commerce.
By taking advantage of Internet technology, BBBOnLine is designed to help consumers get the information they need at precisely the moment they are considering making an online purchase.
A reputable company participating in the BBBOnLine Reliability program is allowed to display the unique BBBOnLine Reliability seal in its Web site. A valid seal can be “clicked” to check the company’s right to use the seal and review its concise background information. Only companies that meet strict Better Business Bureau standards, in addition to BBBOnLine Reliability program standards, are allowed to use this seal.
After reading the report and seeing the seal, you can link right back to the company's home page. As a result, you will know that you are dealing with a legitimate website and doing business with a company that is committed to satisfying its customers.
For more information on the BBBOnLine Reliability Program, visit the following website: www.bbbonline.org.
Bogus Web sites
Trust makes up the essential glue that holds the rapidly expanding online marketplace together. Con artists that try to pass themselves off as legitimate, reputable online businesses can do tremendous harm to consumer confidence in Internet commerce.
By using widely available tools which can easily copy or recreate digital graphics, a computer-literate cyberspace crook can build a website that looks strikingly similar to that of a legitimate online business. This bogus Web site can lure unsuspecting online consumers into various online scams. The following are ways you can avoid being deceived by a fraudulent Web site:
- Online Reliability Seal: Look on the Web site for a reliability seal like the one provided to participants in the BBBOnLine Reliability Program.
- Verify the Uniform Resource Locator (URL): URLs contain the information you need for your Internet browser to properly link you to a particular website. URLs are like street addresses. Just as every house has its own address, every Web page has its own address too. Cyberspace crooks cannot duplicate a legitimate company’s URL exactly, but they can come very close. To specifically check for the exact URL of an online business, visit www.whois.net. From this public information site you should type in the Web site URL of the company your are checking where it says "Please Enter Domain Name or Key Word Here". If the URL is in use, it will show who has registered it and the actual physical address of the company. Additional information such as contact name, phone number and fax numbers may also be available.
Quick Check List
To help you shop safely online, take the following common sense steps:
- Don’t Rely on a Professional Looking Website as Proof of a Company’s Quality or Good Reputation.
- Investigate a Company or Seller Before You Buy.
- Find Out Where a Company is Physically Located to Help Avoid Overseas or Offshore Scams.
- Never Give Out Your Bank Account Number, Credit Card Number, or Personal Information Unless You’re Certain a Company is Legitimate.
- Pay for Your Purchases by Credit or Charge Card which can be Protected Under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
- Start with a Small, Inexpensive Purchase to See How the Company Handles Your Order.
- Find Out About a Company’s Return and Refund Policies Before You Purchase.
- Always Use a Secure Internet Browser That “Encrypts” or Scrambles Your Personal or Financial Information.
To learn more about shopping safely online, contact the following:
* If you find any of the web sites listed above to be offline, please contact the respective organization. Also, be aware that the above phone numbers may be subject to change without notice.