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The BBB warns of scams this holiday season

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Not everyone wants the best for others this holiday season, warns a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc.

Dottie Callina said consumers may fall into the devious traps of scammers, if they fail to watch out for common scams, during the holidays.

"While the rest of us are pulling the decorations out of the attic, scammers are blowing the dust off of their tried-and-true holiday scams," added Fred T. Elsberry, Jr., president and CEO of the BBB. "We can all help make these holiday scams a ghost of Christmases past by not falling for them anymore." Callina said consumers searching for a great deal online must be careful, if they encounter prices that are too good to be true. Scammers use this technique to lure shoppers, take their money, and provide nothing in return, she said.

"Always look for the BBB seal when shopping online and click on the seal to confirm it [the company] is legitimate," said Callina, in a prepared statement.

Once consumers click on the seal, it redirects them to the BBB report for that business, which is posted on the Better Business Bureau's official web site, www.bbb.org, she said.

"It might not be the proper seal if it doesn't go anywhere," said Callina, during a phone interview. Callina said the BBB will contact the business about three times before taking legal action, if it is using the BBB seal without being accredited by the organization.

Furthermore, she said, if the business is not well known, shoppers are advised to research the business by visiting the BBB web site.

Consumers who are conducting business with an individual seller online need to be cautious, she said. "The problem is that some sellers take your money and run," she said.

If shoppers are using web sites, such as "Craigslist," www.craigslist.com, red flags should arise if a seller asks for money to be wired up front, or refuses to make transactions with a credit card, said Callina. "Craigslist" advertises classifieds and forums for free, and does not police its sellers or consumers, Callina said.

The company does provide a disclaimer on its web site, she said. Though the web site provides legitimate business sales, "There are a lot of scams on there," she said.

Callina said shoppers can protect themselves by purchasing with a credit card, because if the sale is a scam, it can be disputed with the credit card company. In most cases, the individual is credited back by the credit card company, she explained.

Individuals, who shop through classifieds and forums, are advised to view local advertisements, and conduct the transaction in person.

"Though 99.9 percent of the time, everything is going to be safe [when purchasing in person], take someone with you," advised Callina.

Before purchasing on auction web sites, consumers should research the seller, said Callina. "eBay," an online marketplace where sellers are able to conduct auctions, provides a history of both its sellers and buyers on the web site, www.ebay.com, said Callina. The company does not allow the seller or purchaser to use eBay if they've received numerous bad reviews, she said.

"When purchasing items on auctions like eBay, research the seller extensively and always listen to your doubts, if the deal doesn't sound legit," she said.

Bogus charities may try to attract victims, added Callina. Local charities are able to be researched at http://atlanta.bbb.org, she said.

"For local charities, the BBB is the only agency in the state of Georgia that evaluates charitable organizations based on a certain set of standards," she said.

Consumers skeptical of charities claiming to be a national non-profit organization are able to assure themselves of their credibility through the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, by visiting, www.bbb.org/charity, said the spokeswoman.

There are 20 Standards for Charity Accountability listed on the web site, which the national charities must meet, she added.

Phishing is the practice of using fraudulent e-mails, posing as those of legitimate companies, to take financial information from consumers for purposes of identity theft.

Common phishing e-mails include e-cards and messages that are fraudulent, but appear to be from well-known companies -- such as United Parcel Service of America, Inc., (UPS) and FedEx Corp. -- and include false tracking-information links, she added.

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

Callina said consumers should be wary of unsolicited e-mails, from companies with which the consumer has no association. Consumers should have current antivirus software and security patches installed on their computers.

Callina said beyond scams, thieves are on the prowl in stores this holiday season. Shoppers should remain organized while shopping, and be sure that all personal items are in place, including wallets.

"Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times, and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items, or getting money from the ATM," she said.