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Scam Alert

9 Ways to Shop Safely Online

How to stay clear of online holiday shopping hoaxes

En español | The Monday after Thanksgiving known as Cyber Monday,  kicks off the online holiday shopping season.

Shopping online helps you avoid the crowds and hassles of stores during the holidays and can fetch some great bargains. But surfing for gifts in cyberspace can be risky, courtesy of copycat websites that shoppers sometimes visit inadvertently after typing the name of that sought-after item into a search engine.

Although legitimate online retailers pop up on the screen, so do "cybersquatters," bogus businesses that steal or alter the Internet addresses of well-known companies to launch copycat sites.

Some are simply fronts for scammers to collect shoppers' credit card numbers. Others actually sell things, but their "incredible deals," if delivered at all, are usually poorly made knockoffs.

How to shop safely this holiday season

  • When you click through to a website, carefully read the domain name — the Internet address — that appears at the top of your browser. Beware of any site whose name has even the slightest change from a legitimate online retailer's — extra words or letters, misspellings — and anything but the usual .com or .org ending.

    One example (which vanished after Scam Alert exposed it earlier this year) was tiffanyco.mn, a slight tweak of the real Tiffany website, tiffany.com. The ending ".mn" meant the website was registered in Mongolia.
  • Make sure that addresses of ordering pages always begin with "https://" instead of "http://." The "s" means it is secure.
  • Pay attention to disclosures at the bottom of the page. Most legitimate online retailers have a "Contact Us" page with a phone number and physical address, and a "Terms and Conditions" link detailing return policies and such. Bogus websites may lack these pages or have them but not tell you what you need to know.

Next: Avoid websites that don't list a physical address. >>

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