Black Friday, Cyber Monday tips for safe shopping

November 24, 2010 9:49:23 AM PST
Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving, have become the most popular holiday shopping days of the year.

Whether shopping at a brick and mortar store or online to avoid the crowds, buyers should be alert for scammers and hackers.

Before leaving home to snag great holiday deals on Black Friday, the Better Business Bureau recommends shoppers look both online and in the newspaper for the best sale prices. It's vital for consumers to not only research what stores have the best deals but also to find out if these retailers are reputable. Go to www.bbb.org to obtain free Business Reviews on any store you are planning to shop at this holiday season. The BBB also recommends shoppers bring the ads to the store on Black Friday and to also become familiar with the store's return policies.

"Finding exceptional bargains and deals drives many consumers to stores and online retailers after the Thanksgiving holiday-however, both have their own set of risks," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Taking steps to avoid the fraud in both situations will result in a much happier holiday experience for everyone-except, of course, for scammers and hackers."

Following are the top 10 online shopping tips for holiday shoppers to help fight deceitful online retailers, scammers and hackers on Cyber Monday and the rest of the 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 on trustworthy websites - Shoppers should start with the BBB to check on the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction at www.bbb.org 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 - The BBB recommends taking 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, and look up the company at www.bbb.org

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 a consumer receives 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 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, the BBB recommends right-clicking 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 shop locally.

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 visit www.bbb.org


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