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Consumers beware of online scams

Published: Thursday, Nov. 25 2010 12:32 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — As thousands of Utahns prepare to engage in the biggest shopping frenzy of the year, the state Division of Consumer Protection is advising shoppers to beware of online retail hazards.

According to the National Retail Federation, online purchases are expected to increase 2.3 percent this year on "Cyber Monday" and with projected holiday sales around $447 billion. A recent survey of retailers by Shop.Org showed that 9 of 10 are planning special online promotions for Nov. 29.

According to Consumer Protection, 27 percent of all complaints received by the agency were related to online scams.

"Five years since Cyber Monday began, Internet fraud continues to be our division's No. 1 complaint among consumers," said Francine Giani, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. "Before you make a purchase on any website, carefully review the terms of sale and confirm the site is secure before typing in any credit card or personal account information."

Among the chief complaints were failure to deliver the goods, failure to honor a warranty and using false or misleading statements, such as "free" when hidden costs were involved.

The agency offered several recommendations to help consumers avoid online shopping pitfalls, such as comparing prices, as scammers often try to entice victims to their websites with incredibly low prices. Also, remember to account for shipping and handling in the cost of Internet purchases.

Research the seller and confirm the online retailer's physical address and phone number in case there are any problems or issues.

Consumers should make sure their antivirus software is up to date and install the latest firewall to protect against online attacks. Financial information should only be entered on secure sites. Never e-mail financial information, like credit card or checking account numbers.

If a purchase is made online, look for indicators the site is secure. While no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL address that includes an "s" after http.

Never save credit card or account information to the seller's site. While this may be seen as a convenience for returning customers, it could allow access by scammers looking for account information.

Pay by credit or charge card only. Do not send cash or wire money for payment.

Keep a paper trail by printing and saving records of all online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, and e-mails.

Lastly, read the fine print and review the refund policy and delivery rates. Also, confirm return and refund policies.

For more information, visit www.consumerprotection.utah.gov.

e-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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