When Cyber Monday Is Swindle Monday

Today, millions of shoppers will try to get great deals by ordering on the internet.
Many will get scammed. The warning caveat emptor may have originated in medieval times, but it is no less relevant in 2014. The internet has given people the ease of shopping while sitting in front of their computer, but it’s made it just as easy for scammers to rob them.

While the internet has turned into a vast global marketplace, with worldwide sales running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, cyberspace is also turning into a veritable boom for scam artists. The list of ways that consumers keep getting robbed on the internet keeps growing. Before buyers type in their credit card information for a purchase, they have to be very vigilant that they are not falling prey to a scam. According to the Internet Complaint Center, U.S. shoppers were bilked out of $781 million due to internet scams.

One of the latest scams involves buying tickets online, where so-called travel agents advertise plane tickets for prices that are almost too good to be true. Trouble is, they are too good to be true. Travelers, lured by the low prices, buy the tickets with their credit cards. Purchasers are given real ticket numbers for the seats, and even when they call the airline, the numbers are validated. However, as it turns out, the phony travel agents use stolen credit cards to purchase the tickets. Once the airline realizes that, the tickets are canceled, the travel agent vanishes, and the buyers of the tickets are left with a credit card bill, but no tickets. Another scam involves low traveling costs, but absurdly high hotel fees.

This time of year, email in-boxes are flooded with special offers touting fantastic bargains and promotions. Before you click on a link, be careful. It may be bogus, either directing you to a fake site that will mimic a real one or, in some cases, it will trigger the execution of spyware on your system. Often it is a fraudulent site that has a web address similar to a legitimate one.

Beware of any email that has links to a site where you have to enter personal or credit card information. It’s very likely pointing to a bogus site that’s “phishing,” or trying to get you to enter personal and sensitive information that can later be used for identity theft.

If you are unsure of whether a phone number is real, call the number that’s on your bill, credit card or financial statement.

Some of the biggest internet scams involve the hottest consumer items: smart phones, tablets and electronic games. Scammers take advantage of the fact that consumers are irrationally driven to get the latest gadget. That’s why it’s important to be very suspicious about prices that are too low. If the price of an item is way below what mainstream retailers charge, it’s a good indication that the product will never be delivered. The seller will simply vanish after the purchase. Good luck in chasing the seller down.

Even if a website is legitimately selling a product for a low price, the bargain-basement price tag does not guarantee the best return policy or service. Unless you are absolutely certain that the product fits your needs exactly, be careful of the fine print on the return policy. Some sites charge whopping return and restocking fees.

In general, one of the best ways to protect yourself while shopping is by using a credit card. Card holders are usually held liable only for the first $50 of a fraudulent transaction, and it’s generally easy to dispute charges. Debit cards can be easily drained of their balances, and it’s much more difficult to recover stolen monies.

Instead of buying online, from a total stranger, an item you can’t properly evaluate, consider making the purchase at a store in your community. Even if you end up paying slightly more, your purchase will be safer, and you will be helping a member of your community earn a parnassah.

Even with the best filters, the internet remains a very dangerous place to be, both spiritually and monetarily.