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Scam Alert

Online Shopping Crimes and Misdemeanors

7 ways to avoid being a victim in cyberspace

Online shopping is ever more common, easy and convenient. But watch out — there's still a risk you'll be scammed, whether you're a buyer or seller.

See also: A fraud alert or a credit freeze?

Last year, nondelivery of payment or merchandise was the top complaint to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, accounting for nearly 14 percent of more than 25,000 reports logged each month. Fraud at online auction websites made up another 6 percent of all complaints.

Safeguard against online shopping scams

Safeguard against online shopping scams. — Masterfile

Receiving counterfeit or shoddy merchandise is another big problem. This may happen because you unknowingly ordered from a "cyber-squatting" site, a copycat online store that fools you into thinking you're visiting the real home of a famous retailer.

At times just looking for things to buy online, without actually buying anything, can be hazardous.

Last holiday season, cyber crooks managed to victimize people who merely typed in the names of products on search engines. The crooks' pages came up in the search results. The shoppers clicked on those links — and unknowingly infected their computers with malware, software that steals personal information or sends spam.

These practices are all outright crimes. But there are legal tricks that reputable merchants are known to play in cyberspace, and you want to guard against them, too. Online retailers are more likely than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts to have "gotchas" such as outrageous shipping costs, no-return policies or "restocking fees" of 20 percent if they do allow returns.

Consumer Reports finds that "virtually every [online] retail site we checked doesn't offer the basic 'implied' warranty consumers usually get when they walk into a store." This warranty ensures that merchandise performs as commonly expected and will last a reasonable amount of time.

Next: Follow these tips for a safer online shopping experience. >>

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