December 18, 2010

December 18, 2010
9 Ways to Shop Safely Online

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Saturday and I hope you are having a safe and great weekend so far. Dab the AIDS Bear and I are dragging a little this morning after the great party last evening. But we have a busy day again today so we have to get off and running soon.

If you are busy like us or if you hate going shopping during the holidays, you probably shop online like we do. But you have to be careful when shopping online. So today, I decided to do a blog on how to avoid the hoaxes and shop safely online.

Money was especially tight for many families last holiday season, and yet nearly 100 million Americans took to their keyboards on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving that marks the kickoff of the online holiday shopping season.

Surveys indicate that even more shoppers plan to buy gifts on the Internet this season nearly 70 percent, up from about 64 percent in 2009. Shopping this way helps avoid the crowds and hassles of stores during the holidays and can fetch some great bargains.

But keep your eyes open: Watch out for copycat websites, which shoppers sometimes visit inadvertently after typing the name of that sought after item into a search engine.

Although legitimate online retailers pop up on the screen, so do cybersquatters, bogus businesses that steal or alter the Internet addresses of well known companies to launch copycat sites.

Some are simply fronts for scammers to collect shoppers' credit card numbers. Others actually sell things, but their incredible deals, if delivered at all, are usually poorly made knockoffs.

How to shop safely this holiday season

* When you click through to a website, carefully read the domain name — the Internet address — that appears at the top of your browser. Beware of any site whose name has even the slightest change from a legitimate online retailer's — extra words or letters, misspellings — and anything but the usual .com or .org ending.

One example (which vanished after Scam Alert exposed it earlier this year) was, a slight tweak of the real Tiffany website, The ending ".mn" meant the website was registered in Mongolia.

* Make sure that addresses of ordering pages always begin with "https://" instead of "http://." The "s" means it is secure.

* Pay attention to disclosures at the bottom of the page. Most legitimate online retailers have a Contact Us page with a phone number and physical address, and a Terms and Conditions link detailing return policies and such. Bogus websites may lack these pages or have them but not tell you what you need to know.

* Avoid any website that does not provide a physical address, which you can verify by looking up the company on the Internet, or a phone number. Scam sites often allow only for e-mail correspondence, which makes for better hiding in cyberspace. If a phone number is listed, call it to ensure it is not a fax machine or voicemail with no live operator two more red flags for a potential scam.

* Watch for scammer grammar. Although legitimate retailers may not moonlight for Webster's dictionary, their websites tend to be absent of the frequent misspellings and grammatical errors of the websites, ads and e-mail of scammers, who are often foreigners with poor command of English or fly by nights with little time to spell check while trying to stay one step ahead of the law.

* Reject any requests for wire transfer payment. It is the quickest way to lose money, especially if it is sent overseas. Legit online retailers accept credit cards, which offer you more protection than debit transactions if you need to dispute payment.

* Do not believe sob stories. Beware of act now offers that tell you the seller is a soldier needing cash for possessions before deploying to a war zone or a recent divorcée wanting to unload her former husband's belongings. These tactics are often bait to empty your wallet; the items typically do not exist.

* Research the prices. Similar items typically fall into a general price range. If one being offered to you falls way below that range, you need to ask yourself why. The usual answer: Scammers use ridiculously low prices to lure consumers into a bogus bargain.

* Be on guard at online auctions. Lost the winning bid on eBay or another auction website? Do not be taken in by follow up e-mails offering the same deal. Scammers often cruise online auction sites to pounce on losing bidders and direct them away from those secure buying environments.

Hope those tips help you have a safe and great holiday shopping experience. But remember, the real gift of the holidays is spending time with those you loe.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab