Scams lurk online, shoppers advised

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, a shopper leaves Macy's in Boston on Black Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

The covid-19 pandemic will have more shoppers looking for bargains differently this year for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Instead of overnight camping in front of Best Buy or 4 a.m. door-dashing through Walmart, consumers will be sitting comfortably in their pajamas searching for online deals from their favorite retailer.

While this seems convenient for the bargain seeker, it also gives cybercriminals an opportunity to prey on online shoppers.

According to a release from Comparitech researchers, more than 5,000 probable scam and phishing sites were registered this month.

"Phishing sites often imitate well-known sites such as the login page for PayPal, but during the holiday shopping season cybercriminals set up original scam websites with tempting deals and rewards," said Comparitech.

According to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2019 Arkansans lost over $22,681,000 in a variety of scams. This year, the FBI office in Little Rock wants shoppers to enjoy a scam-free holiday season by remaining vigilant against the following schemes.

The FBI says that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is and to steer clear of unfamiliar sites offering unrealistic discounts on brand-name merchandise. Also be cautious of sellers and websites that demand payment solely through gift cards.

Hackers also are known to target merchant websites and steal customer information. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that whether shopping online or in-store, scammers can get pretty creative when trying to steal from consumers and take any opportunity to steal money and personal information.

"It's important for Arkansans to always be careful whether they are shopping online or in-store this Christmas season," said Rutledge. "Far too often, I've seen the lengths that scam artists will go to in an attempt to steal money from hard-working Arkansans."

Rutledge provides the following tips to help keep consumers safe while shopping online:

Look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar, and the abbreviation "https" in the web address to be sure information is secure and to help guard the security of your information as it is transmitted to a website. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer.

Check the online merchant's privacy policy before providing any personal financial information and determine how the information will be used or shared with others. Some websites' disclosures are easier to find than others -- look at the bottom of the home page, on order forms or in the "About" or "FAQs" sections of a site.

Read and understand return, refund and shipping policies before you make your purchase.

Pay by credit card, which is the most secure payment method. Under federal law, charges can be disputed and consumer liability for theft is limited so long as consumers promptly notify the bank or credit card issuer. Additionally, many credit card issuers have "zero liability" policies under which the purchaser pays nothing if his or her credit card is stolen and used to make unauthorized purchases.

Keep personal information private. Do not disclose personal information – address, telephone number, Social Security number, bank account number or email address – unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it and how they will use it.

Be cautious when buying gifts from an online auction. Understand how the auction works and check out the seller's reputation before bidding. Always ask about terms of delivery and return options. Never wire money for the purchase; use some other form of payment.

Keep records of online transactions and check for emails from merchants while doing business. Merchants may email important information about purchases.

Promptly and thoroughly review monthly credit card and bank statements for any errors or unauthorized purchases. Notify the credit or debit card issuer immediately if a card or checkbook is lost or stolen or if you suspect someone is using your accounts without your permission.

Fraudsters will be extremely active this time of year and by following a few simple guidelines, you can protect yourself from phishing and scams this holiday season.