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Update: BBB offers 10 tips for shopping online

The Better Business Bureau offered tips to people who'll be turning to their computers for retail therapy and gift-giving on so-called Cyber Monday.

According to a new survey published by the National Retail Federation, 96.5 million Americans plan to shop on Cyber Monday this year, up from 85 million in 2008.

Cyber Monday is a term coined by Shop.org in 2005. It captured a trend of people shopping online on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Today, Cyber Monday is viewed as the ceremonial kickoff to the online holiday shopping season, when shoppers flood Web sites expecting robust promotions and many retailers highlight some of their most compelling holiday offers, BBB said in a news release.

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.

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. Use trustworthy Web sites – Shoppers should start with BBB 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.

2. Be careful about purchasing gift cards from auction sites or through classified ads. If you need a gift card, it is safest to purchase it directly from the merchant or another retail store. If the gift card merchant discovers the card you received from another source or auction was initially obtained fraudulently, the merchant will deactivate the gift card number and it will not be honored for purchases.

3. Protect your personal information – 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. Trust your gut – Offers on Web sites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a “deal” that might cost them dearly in the end.

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 and as a record of the purchase.

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. 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, and to see reports on thousands of online retailers, go to bbb.org.

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