The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection is joining consumer groups nationwide today in urging online shoppers to be cautious and wary in avoiding online scams that may be targeting cyber-shoppers today and in upcoming weeks.
“While smart phones and the Internet can make your holiday shopping faster and easier, there can also be pitfalls if you’re not careful,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said.
Online retailers are offering super deals to capitalize on “Cyber Monday” – one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. Unfortunately, scam artists are also ready to lure the unwary into divulging sensitive personal information and sending money for nonexistent products.
“This year, with more and more shoppers using mobile devices to do some or all of their holiday shopping, we’re warning consumers to be on the lookout for a growing number of mobile ecommerce scams,” Rubenstein said.
The National Consumers League reports that more than half of all U.S. wireless users now have smart phones and 45 million consumers use shopping and e-commerce apps. Nielsen reports an 89% increase in the use of mobile apps for commerce and shopping in 2012. With so many shoppers now online, consumers need to be aware of and watch out for an upsurge in the number of mobile e-commerce scams, many targeted at holiday shoppers.
- Unsecured WiFi networks – Most smart phones are designed to operate on a carrier’s cellular network as well as on WiFi hotspots. When connected to a public hotspot, be careful entering sensitive information – banking and credit card information, for instance — into online shopping sites and applications, since the connection is not secure and others are likely to be snooping on the network.
- Holiday phishing and SMSishing scams – Scammers may try to take advantage of bargain hunters by sending out phishing emails and text messages (known as “SMSishing”) offering seemingly unbeatable deals on holiday gifts, particularly hard-to-find toys. Clicking on these links may lead to phishing sites that install mobile malware or seek to get credit card or other sensitive information from shoppers.
- Bogus online coupons – Today’s consumers increasingly rely on coupon apps and coupons specifically designed for storage on smart phones. Beware of suspicious emails or online ads offering these coupons, as they could lead to mobile malware sites.
- Phony social network promotions – Consumers who use their phones to check in on Facebook or other social networks are likely to be targeted by ads for holiday deals, gifts, giveaways and promotions. Be wary about clicking on these ads, particularly if doing so prompts you to download an unfamiliar app to your phone.
- QR codes – QR codes are the square images resembling barcodes that are increasingly found online and in print advertising. Scanning these barcodes with a smart phone camera can take you to an unsecured mobile website or cause you to download an app. Scammers have begun to take advantage of this technology to send consumer malware apps that can surreptitiously sign the user up for premium text message services.
Always follow these guidelines whenever you shop online:
- Make sure your computer protection is up to date — that your computer has a secure firewall and the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
- Read the fine print in any offer. Know the terms of the deal, including refund and return policies, shipping and handling costs, warranties, delivery dates, and complaint procedures.
- Shop on secure, trusted websites. Before you enter your personal and financial information, look in the address box for an “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol (i.e., a closed padlock), which indicate that your purchase is encrypted or secured.
- Pay by credit card. Credit card transactions are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which covers disputes over non-delivered or misrepresented merchandise and unauthorized charges. In most cases, you will not be held accountable for the full amount of the undelivered merchandise. Some credit cards may provide additional purchase protection benefits.
- Keep a record of your purchases, including product descriptions, price (including discounts and promotions applied), shipping and handling fees, order confirmation, receipt, delivery time, and any correspondence between you and the merchant.
Follow up within a couple weeks if your merchandise has not yet arrived. If you have an unsatisfactory online shopping experience, start by contacting the merchant. If you still are not satisfied with the answers or action taken, you may file a written complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection, 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 06106. You may also want to notify the Connecticut Better Business Bureau and The Federal Trade Commission.
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