Tips for navigating through 'Cyber Monday'

For those who love to shop online, Cyber Monday may have replaced Black Friday, but folks shouldn't be too trustworthy when shopping by the click of a button, according to a spokeswoman for the local Better Business Bureau.

Dottie Callina said that when people opt to shop online to avoid large crowds, they may open a door for scammers and hackers –– if they aren't careful. Cyber Monday falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving, which will be on Nov. 28 this year.

"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," added Fred Elsberry, Jr., president and CEO of the local BBB. "Taking steps to avoid fraud online will result in a much happier holiday for everyone."

Consumers should protect their computers by installing the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware, and a secure firewall, continued Callina.

Shoppers should browse through trusted web sites, she said. Consumers should start their research by visiting BBB's web site, http://atlanta.bbb.org. It provides information on the seller's reputation and record of customer satisfaction. "Always look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized ‘trustmarks' on retailer web sites, and click on the seals to confirm that they are valid," Callina said.

To protect personal information, she said, the BBB recommends reading the privacy policy on a company's web site. Shoppers should have an understanding of what personal information will be used and how it will be used, she added.

Callina said if there isn't a privacy policy posted on the web site, shoppers should think twice before sharing information and giving away their money.

If the price is extremely low on a much-wanted, expensive item, consumers should be suspicious, she said. "Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a ‘deal' that might cost them dearly in the end," she advised.

Phishing still exists, so shoppers should be on the lookout for e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account, she said. The goal of such e-mails is to get a victim's financial information. If someone receives this e-mail, they should call the phone number on the web site where the purchase was made to confirm if there really was a problem with the transaction, Callina added. Shoppers can verify if their online purchase is secure by looking for "https://" on the address box, she said. A lock symbol should also be displayed on the lower right hand corner of the computer screen. If consumers have any doubt about the authenticity of a web site, it is recommended that they right click, with their mouse, anywhere on their screen, and then select "Properties." This will allow them to see the actual web site address, and the dialog box will be revealed, if the site isn't encrypted, she said.

BBB, she said, recommends that shoppers pay with credit cards when making an online purchase. This will allow the consumer to dispute the charges if the item isn't delivered, under federal law. Shoppers can also dispute if unauthorized charges were made on their credit card. Most credit card holders have "zero liability" policies, which protects them from such purchases. "The card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it," she said. "Never wire money, and only shop locally on sites like Craigslist."

Shoppers should keep documents of their online order, such as the final confirmation page or an e-mail confirmation, said Callina. People should save this for their records.

Consumers should also check their credit card accounts for suspicious activity, she said. Don't wait for paper statements. Shoppers should also be aware of their rights. Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the agreed-upon date, or if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the items aren't shipped on time, shoppers can cancel the purchase and request a refund. Consumers also have the right to refuse an item, if it's defective or misrepresented, said Callina.

For more information, visit the BBB web site at www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-holiday.