Chicago, Ill., November 26, 2008 - Bargain hunters will undoubtedly be flocking to the Internet for holiday sales this year, and overall, online sales are again expected to increase this season as more shoppers forego the trip to the store. The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois is warning that scammers will again be setting up shop online this year, using low prices to entice shoppers, and ultimately not delivering the goods.
"Many consumers have come to feel extremely comfortable shopping online as part of their everyday lives and simply don't consider the increased threat of identity theft or unscrupulous retailers during the holiday season," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. "While the online environment has become a thriving, trusted marketplace, e-commerce has also opened a door and created a ripe environment for scammers to set up shop online and start ripping people off."
With more shoppers expected to head to the Internet this season, scammers know they can take advantage of consumers who are looking for bargains. Given the reach of the Internet, potential scams are not restricted to one area, or even one country.
This year, BBB is offering a "Top 10 Online Shopping Tips" for holiday shoppers to help prevent being taken in by unscrupulous online retailers, scammers and hackers.
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. A consumer also has the right to reject merchandise if it's defective or was misrepresented.
2. Use trustworthy Web sites - Shoppers should start at bbb.org to check on the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always look for a "trustmark" from BBBOnLine and click on that seal to confirm that it's valid. The BBB has seen an increase in false web sites. If the company is unfamiliar to you, do your homework before buying their products. If you decide to buy something from an unknown company, start out with an inexpensive order. Reliable companies should also advertise their physical business address and at least one phone number, either customer service or an order line.
4. Beware of closeout sales - Shoppers should be extremely careful about closeout sales in regards to refunds and exchanges. We encourage consumers to carefully read and make sure they understand any and all policies that come with their purchase. Also, be aware of special policies for refunds and exchanges related to closeout sales. Most stores have a return policy, but the policies often vary.
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, BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the contact number on the Web site 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, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select "Properties." This will let you see the real URL (Web site 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.
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 - BBB recommends saving a copy of the Web page and any e-mails for future reference.
9. Check your credit card statements often - Don't wait for paper statements; BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by either calling credit card companies or by checking statements online regularly.
10. 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.
For more advice on staying safe online this holiday season, and to see reports on thousands of online retailers, go to www.bbb.org.
As a private, non-profit organization, the purpose of the Better Business Bureau is to promote an ethical marketplace. BBBs help resolve buyer/seller complaints by means of conciliation, mediation and arbitration. BBBs also review advertising claims, online business practices and charitable organizations. BBBs develop and issue reports on businesses and nonprofit organizations and encourage people to check out a company or charity before making a purchase or donation.