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Tips to avoid Internet and shopping scams

Editor’s note: The Pahrump Valley Times is proud to introduce a new regular feature in our community section starting this week. Leslie Kim is an expert on fraud and fraud prevention. She has agreed to supply weekly columns to the PVT in an effort to combat fraud in our community.

If your email in-box is like my in-box, it’s overflowing with offers of aardvarks to xylophones.

It’s important to understand that scammers do not take time off during the holidays. To the contrary, heavy shopping season acquaints to heavy scamming season. They’re actively searching for victims to exploit during the annual holiday buying frenzy.

If you want to protect yourself from Internet scams, start with these online shopping tips.

Let’s start with your computer. Protect it! Make sure that you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

Shop only on sites that you know are trustworthy. It’s unlikely that you’ll get scammed on Amazon or websites associated with major retailers, however your chances of a bad experience increase dramatically if you order from .binkiesfinetoys in Monrovia or Uzbekistan.

Always protect your personal information. There are two words, when used together, that scare the heck out of everybody — “Identity” and “Theft”

Read the site’s privacy policy so that you fully understand how your information will be used. If the site does not have a privacy policy posted, avoid it because it’s a real possibility that they increase THEIR income by selling YOUR information.

When ordering from a website, confirm that your purchase transaction is secure. When you get to the page that asks for a password, credit card or other personal information, make sure that there is an “s” in “https//” and that you see the “lock symbol” in the lower right hand corner. Use a credit card. Under federal law, charges may be disputed if an item is not received.

Read and understand the Return Policy before you purchase anything. If there isn’t one or if it is vague and non-specific, do not hit the purchase key.

Understand your rights relative to delivery. If no delivery date is stated or guaranteed, then it might be 30 days before your order arrives. Federal law mandates that orders made by mail, phone or online must be shipped by the date promised — but if they make no promise or guarantee, your order gets to you when it gets to you — possibly long after Santa has taken off his boots, stabled the reindeer, and is relaxing in his new Serta Lounger.

Consistently check your credit. In the month or more it takes for your bill to arrive, a crook could have had a very happy holiday on YOUR credit.

And when you get your statement, review it carefully!

Don’t fall for phishing scams. Phishing, pronounced just like what you do with a rod and reel, is the solicitation of personal information via the Internet, the telephone, the mail or even in person. If you get an email asking you to confirm your information because of a security breach … the sender IS usually the security breach.

Remember, legitimate businesses do not use email claiming problems with an order to convince a buyer to reveal personal information. They just don’t. (This is also true of telephone contacts. If someone calls you from Bank of America’s Security Department, hang up. Then pick the phone back up and YOU initiate a call to the bank to confirm or be told the call was a scam. In almost all cases, it’s the latter).

With regard to holiday shopping, be on your toes there, too. Live this mantra — if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably NOT true.

This is another area that demands that you read the small print.

Beware of up-selling. “Oh, do you want doors with that car? That’ll be $2,348 extra!”

Bring the ad along with you so that you can match and verify the advertised price.

A “new game in town” is a restocking fee. Some stores will add this fee if you return electronics or high end items. Legitimate ones tell you up front. The others “surprise” you at the service counter after-the-fact.

Always know what the return policy is BEFORE you purchase.

Many consumers, even the smart ones, have a wallet full of credit cards but are afraid to use them lest they become victim to the two most terrifying words of this decade. “Identity Theft.”

While the risk could outweigh the benefit in a small unknown store for a few trivial items, it is the reverse in a known store when used to purchase more substantial items. Usage of that credit card gives you an element of control.

If you are unsatisfied with the purchase, the credit card company will go to bat for you if there are problems with the item or the return. Many cards also offer benefits that the average person is not aware of. Like adding an additional year to your warranty.

By the way, take time to READ all that stuff that comes in the mail along with your credit card. You may be amazed at what you’ve been missing!

But what do you do if the bad guys get you?

Do not just sit there and take it in the shorts. Go to www.ag.nv.gov and click on complaints. If you live in another state and just happen to be reading this column, go to the AG’s website in your own state. The Consumer Protection Division is your best friend in such cases.

Have a safe and happy holiday, one and all!

Leslie is the Editor of The John Cooke Fraud Report (since 1994), a publication that educates all levels of fraud investigators and law enforcement personnel, the Executive Director of www.fightfraudamerica.com, among the most extensive fraud information sites on the Internet, and the author of 123 Main Street … the Scamming of America — available on Amazon and soon at the PVT office.

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