On the heels of a $1 billion-Cyber Monday and in the heat of the holiday shopping season, one of the nation's leading consumer groups is reminding shoppers that online scammers are continuously tweaking their strategies to outsmart buyers, and updating its guidelines for Web safety.
The Consumer Federation of America released this humorous buyer beware video to alert consumers to the dangers of money transfers, which the group said is the preferred way for crooks to trick money out of unwary buyers.
Between January and November of this year, a third of reported payments to online swindlers were money transfers often facilitated by the fraudsters' use of false identities to receive the cash, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the CFA, in a press tele-conference with reporters.
Grant said general merchandise tops the list of online scams, which was previously headed by check-cashing fraud. Rip-offs involving general merchandise include sellers never delivering purchased goods or misrepresenting what they're selling, and the best way to protect oneself when shopping online is to use credit cards because of the legal recourse they provide to dispute fraudulent charges, Grant said.
Payment services such as PayPal also have built-in buyer protections in case something goes wrong, but the CFA advises consumers to read how to qualify for these protections before using the services.
The organization's chief warning to buyers is to vet unfamiliar sellers by checking for consumer complaints against the companies on auction or price comparison sites. The six vetting sites the CFA recommends are: my3cents.com; complaints.com; complaintsboard.com; pissedconsumer.com; consumeraffairs.com; and ripoffreport.com.
My3cents.com, the top-rated resource by the CFA, contains the largest number of recent complaints and also lists the number of comments per company, offers information about complaint resolution, and is organized in a consumer-friendly manner.
Another update to the CFA's guidelines is the recommendation to use a secure browser, such as one that begins with shttp/https, where the "S" is for secure. Websites that use this feature turn consumers' credit card numbers into codes so no one else can read them. A secure site may also display a closed padlock.
The CFA also cautions against providing financial account numbers by email, or "confirming" them in response to an email. "No one who already has your financial information should be asking you to confirm it," Grant said.
Click the link for a full list of updated online shopping tips.
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