Pharos-Tribune

December 1, 2013

OUR VIEW: Shop smart on Cyber Monday


Pharos-Tribune

---- — If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. At least that’s what they say.

But sometimes, when retailers are making their huge holiday sales push, the unbelievably great deals are in fact true. You can stand in their place of business and you can examine the merchandise in your hands to be sure it’s what they say it is. You can verify you’re not getting ripped off before you pay.

But come the Monday after Thanksgiving — Cyber Monday as it’s called — online shoppers will be faced with those too-good-to-be-true deals without the luxury of examining the product in question. These deals often don’t come with the benefit of a brick-and-mortar establishment.

And while Cyber Monday has evolved into the busiest online shopping day of the year, it comes fraught with increased risks of fraud. That fraud takes on many forms, whether it be loss of money, receipt of counterfeit goods, fraudulent credit card transactions or identity theft.

You are the only thing that can stop you from being a victim of Cyber Monday.

“Like all technology, online shopping offers benefits and risks,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says. “Online shopping offers convenience and information for comparison shopping, but consumers should do their homework before sharing credit card information online.”

This homework becomes especially critical around the holiday shopping season.

Criminals use a variety of traps amidst the convenience of the online shopping environment, including suspicious offers or communications. Fraud schemes are often associated with products or gift cards being sold for dramatically reduced prices; “one day only” websites, offering sales on high-demand items; and “phishing” emails, text messages, or phone calls that purport to come from established and well-known retailers, seeking shoppers to verify credit card numbers, bank accounts, or detailed personal information.

The FBI has offered online shoppers these guidelines as they head into Cyber Monday:

• Purchase merchandise only from reputable sellers.

• Obtain a physical address and phone number rather than a Post Office box and call the seller to see if the number is correct and working.

• Send an e-mail to the seller to make sure the e-mail address is active.

• Check with the Better Business Bureau in the seller’s area.

• Inquire about returns and warranties.

• Be wary of overseas sellers, who may not be subject to recourse by U.S. law enforcement.

• Do not judge a company by its website. Impressive-looking websites can be set up quickly.

• Use a credit card for purchases rather than a money order or personal check if your credit card company allows you to dispute charges if something goes wrong.

• Shop around to educate yourself about the price range for the item; if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is not legitimate.

Of course, despite all your best efforts, sometimes fraud still occurs. If you are a victim of an Internet crime, you may report it at the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, at www.ic3.gov.

Stay safe and shop smart.

THE ISSUE Monday is the biggest online shopping day of the year. OUR VIEW Fraud is a major risk and shoppers should be on the lookout to protect themselves.