On Your Side: Protecting yourself from online holiday scams

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News 12 at 11 o'clock/ Tuesday, Nov. 5th, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Long lines and crowded parking lots may have you looking for an easier option for holiday shopping. This year millions will head to their computers in the comfort of their own homes instead of dealing with the stores. But before you click the purchase button there's a few things you need to know to protect yourself.

The stroke of a key and the click of a mouse are common sounds for online shoppers like Mallory Langston.

"It's just easier just to sit there and click," she said. "[I shop] at least three to four times a week if not more."

That's especially true during the holiday season. "I have a demanding job and it's just easier than having to haul the kids around to go to different areas," explained Langston.

As Christmas decorations go up around town, holiday deals go up on the internet.

"The next couple weeks I'll be starting to do all my Christmas shopping and trying to get that done by the 1st of December," said Langston.

While many begin their holiday shopping, criminals will start doing theirs as well.

There were more than 250,000 complaints of internet crimes reported last year. Georgia is 12th in the nation and South Carolina is 25th. The average loss was more than 4500 dollars.

"With the holidays coming it's going to be even more prevalent," said Gigi Turner with the BBB.

Turner says it's easier than you may think to become the victim of a scam. "The criminals keep up with the times and right now the internet, online, social media are prime targets," she explained.

Each year the scams get more sophisticated. So what can you do to protect yourself?

"Consumers need to be literally suspicious," said Turner.

The BBB warns against shopping on a public wifi whether on your computer or on your phone. Always look for the https or the lock meaning the website is secure and always use a credit card over a debit.

"A credit card can be disputed with your credit card company if there was a problem," explained Turner.

Turner also warns to watch out for scams claiming the business is accredited by the BBB.

"If you click he logo it will link to the BBB website for their reliability report," she said. "If you click on a BBB logo and it doesn't do anything, most likely it isn't legitimate."

The agency also says if you're ordering from a website you don't know always look for their contact information and check the reviews.

"Google them online. Find out any information that you can about the business you are doing business with," said Turner.

Something Tiffany Bynum learned too late.

"I was looking for a cellphone, smart phone for my daughter because her phone had broken," said Bynum.

After googling cheap phones she found the website ahappydeal.com.

"They had a list of supposed to be reviews from different customers and they all were satisfied," explained Bynum.

She even payed through PayPal, but the phone she ordered never arrived.

"After this happened and I googled ahappydeal.com I found out a bunch of stuff," she said.

Including complaints on the BBB's website including failure to deliver products and problems with the product itself. The business is not accredited by the BBB. After multiple calls and emails to the company she realized the phone wasn't coming.

"The people behind it they make it seem so legit and so convenient for you," said Bynum.

She says she's learned her lesson and wants to share it with you before it's too late.

"There's somebody else out there like me. Looking for a deal," said Bynum.

After disputing the charges with her bank she was eventually able to get her money back.

She says the company was based overseas, which is something else the BBB warns against because it is difficult to get in touch with them if anything goes wrong.

They also say be careful clicking on links in emails or on social media. Go to the website directly and always read terms and conditions of returns.

They also warn that local businesses can become victims too. They say do not allow people to send you checks for online orders. For those transactions use systems like PayPal.

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