BBB offers advice for Cyber Monday

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

COVINGTON -- Although store managers are expecting decent-sized crowds this weekend for holiday shopping, many more retail chains are expecting customers to shop from the comforts of their own homes.

Cyber Monday -- the Monday after Thanksgiving -- has officially replaced Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- as the most popular day to shop for the holidays. Last year, 96.5 million Americans shopped online during Cyber Monday, while 79 million Americans shopped at retailers' physical locations on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation.

While the Better Business Bureau said shopping online means avoiding the crowds, officials warn that it also opens the buyer up to attacks from scammers and hackers.

"The convenience and ease of shopping online has replaced the hassle of going to the store for many people, but online shopping has its own set of risks," said Fred T. Elsberry Jr., president and CEO of the BBB serving metro Atlanta, Athens and northeast Georgia. "Taking steps to avoid the fraud online will result in a much happier holiday for everyone except, of course, for scammers and hackers."

The metro Atlanta bureau has offered some tips to having a safe online shopping experience.

  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.

  1. Shop on trustworthy Websites.

Shoppers should start with BBB to check on the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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, 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.

Don't click on any links or open any attachments to e-mails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. E-mail addresses that don't match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing e-mail.

Also beware of unsolicited e-mails from companies with which you have no association.

  1. Confirm your online purchase is secure.

Shoppers should always look in the address box for the "s" in "https://" in the browser box and in the lower-right corner for the lock symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and selecting "Properties" to see the real website address and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.

  1. 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 cardholder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.

If you use Craigslist to buy hard-to-find items, shop locally and conduct the transaction in person -- never wire money as payment. When purchasing items on auctions like eBay, research the seller extensively and always listen to your doubts if the deal doesn't sound legit.

  1. 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, which the BBB recommends saving a copy of for future reference and as a record of the purchase.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Consumers also 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.