Don't get ripped off when buying online

This holiday season, everyone will be on the hunt for the best deals. The Better Business Bureau warns online shoppers that some deals on electronics are too good to be true. The BBB is advising holiday shoppers to keep an eye out for five red flags of unscrupulous consumer electronics stores.

Shoppers are increasingly heading to the Internet to look for deals. According to a survey from Burst Media, 85.3 percent of respondents will shop online this holiday season. Because of the economy, holiday spending is expected to drop slightly from 2008, and some industry experts predict that retailers will make deep price cuts, particularly on electronics, to lure shoppers.

Unfortunately, not all Web sites promising rock-bottom discounts on electronics are legitimate and consumers need to do their research when shopping online or they risk getting ripped off by a scammer.

Despite the economy, consumer electronics are still expected to be on many holiday shopping lists. Everyone will be looking for the best deals this year and scammers know that they can take advantage of that by using low prices to lure in victims.

The BBB recommends consumers look for the following red flags of electronics Web sites:

- The prices are too good to be true. Everyone is looking for a bargain on electronics and scammers use tantalizingly low prices to lure victims in. If the prices for items are well below those of trusted competitors, it's a sign to walk away.

- Spelling and grammatical errors abound. Some phony electronics Web sites are created by scammers overseas. As a result, the Web sites, or spam e-mails directing shoppers to the site, might have many grammatical mistakes or spelling errors.

- The business accepts payment via wire transfer only. Scammers often ask victims to wire payment through Western Union or MoneyGram because the money cannot be easily tracked or retrieved in the case of fraud. The BBB recommends always using a credit card to pay for electronics online. If the Web site turns out to be fraudulent, you can dispute the charge with your credit card carrier and hopefully get your money back.

- The business has a bad rating with the BBB. Always review the business's reliability report online at www.bbb.org to find out what rating it has received from BBB. If you don't find a BBB Reliability Report, it doesn't necessarily mean the business is fraudulent, but it may indicate the business has not been around for long or has yet to develop a track record.

- The Web site fraudulently uses security seals. Scam Web sites will often display the seals from certification organizations such as VeriSign, IQNet or TRUSTe without authorization, or falsely claim to be accredited by the BBB. When shopping online you want to look for the seals of trusted organizations and confirm that the business' use of the seal is legitimate.

You can typically do this by clicking on the seal, which, if legitimate, will link you to a confirmation page on the certifying organization's site. The BBB warns, however, that some scammers have craftily created fake confirmation pages spoofing the real certifying organization's site, so make sure you really have been redirected to the legitimate site for verification by checking the Web address.

Are you on the Web site of the certifying organization? If not, the use of the seal is likely unauthorized. Double check your conclusion by visiting the Web site of the certifier to find its list of legitimate seal holders.

When shopping online for electronics, always look for the BBB Accredited Seal -- which shows that the business upholds the BBB's rigorous standards for marketplace ethics -- and then visit BBB.org to confirm BBB accreditation.

Kelvin Collins is the President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc. Refer questions or complaints about a company or charity to (800) 763-4222, www.bbb.org, info@centralgeorgia. bbb.org or info@csra.bbb.org.

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