While some holiday shoppers skipped the malls on "Black Friday," e-tailers are expecting a record breaking "Cyber Monday" today. Leading consumer behavior analyst Nielsen estimates 46 percent of consumers plan to shop from home, prompting Better Business Bureau to caution consumers about the unique dangers of online shopping.
"Shopping online can be fast and convenient, but the anonymity of the Internet often makes it difficult to discern between what's real and what's bogus," said Warren Clark, BBB president serving upstate New York.
Not only are gift-seekers shopping on computers, research indicates that more and more shoppers will be using tablets and smart phones to make big purchases in 2013, so mobile security is imperative.
For mobile shoppers, BBB recommends:
•Don't follow links. Never click on links until you can verify their source. Watch out for unsolicited messages called "smishing" - text messages between mobile phones and handheld devices with links that can take the recipient to a phishing site. There they'll be prompted to download a program in an attempt to collect personal information, putting users at risk for identity theft.
•Avoid public networks. Only connect to secure wireless networks when conducting important transactions to avoid unprotected hot spots.
•Only use officially authorized applications. With the increases in mobile malware and viruses, ensure that application publishers are authorized by official financial organizations.
•Keep devices secure. Always lock mobile phones and change passcodes frequently.
For tablet and computer shoppers, BBB advises shoppers to lookout for counterfeit websites and too-good-to-be-true deals.
•Free gift cards: Be wary of unsolicited texts or emails offering "contest winners" free gift cards. Responding to texts indicates phone numbers are active and recipients will likely be spammed more. Don't even be tempted to reply "STOP" as some texts invite you to do.
•Bogus coupons: Watch for fake downloadable coupons that could wreak havoc on computers and provide digital identity thieves with personal information.
•Exceptionally low prices: Avoid too-good-to-be-true offers. Extremely low or unrealistic prices on in-demand or hard-to-find goods are a red flag that retailers may not be legitimate.
•Blurry or distorted photos: Ignore websites with lousy images. If images are unclear or skewed, it may indicate that they were hijacked and reused from other sources. Vendors of authentic products will provide clear, high-quality photos.
•Questionable licensing: Shop elsewhere if background information cannot be verified. Reputable e-tailers will clearly display contact information and have the proper licenses for the state where they claim to be located.
•Unsecure payment forms: Don't enter personal data or pay on for purchases on unencrypted Web pages. Look for the URL to display "https" in the address bar, which indicates you are shopping in a secure Web ecommerce site.
•Privacy Policies: Don't be careless with personal information. Only do business with websites that clearly outline how personal information will be handled, and avoid companies that will sell that information to third parties. Privacy policies should be easily accessible from website landing pages.
•Unresolved complaints: Be cautious of unanswered or unresolved complaints on BBB Business Reviews. Do a Google search for other reviews and steer clear of businesses with patterns of problems.
•Plastic: Use credit cards, which offer the most protection when making an online purchase. If items are misrepresented or never arrive, it's easier to dispute charges.
For more BBB information, visit bbb.org.