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"The convenience and ease of shopping online has replaced the hassle of going to the store for many people — but online shopping has its own set of risks," Better Business Bureau spokesperson Alison Southwick said.
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updated 11/29/2010 7:52:54 AM ET 2010-11-29T12:52:54

With each passing year, more people are heading online rather than to the mall to get their holiday shopping done. But online shoppers need to beware the dangers that come with the comfort of shopping from home, the Better Business Bureau warns.

Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) has officially replaced Black Friday as the most popular holiday shopping day of the year. Last year, 96.5 million Americans shopped online during Cyber Monday while 79 million Americans shopped at brick-and-mortar retailers on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation.

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But while shopping online means you won't waste time searching for a parking spot or fighting the crowds at the mall, it can leave you vulnerable to cyber-criminals looking to empty your bank account or steal your identity.

"The convenience and ease of shopping online has replaced the hassle of going to the store for many people — but online shopping has its own set of risks," BBB spokesperson Alison Southwick said in a statement. "Taking steps to avoid the fraud online will result in a much happier holiday for everyone — except, of course, for scammers and hackers."

Here are the BBB's Top 10 Online Shopping Tips for holiday shoppers:

1. Protect your computer — A computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

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2. Shop on trustworthy websites — Shoppers should start with BBB to check on the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized "trustmarks" on retailer websites and click on the seals to confirm that they are valid.

3. Protect your personal information — BBB recommends taking the time to read the site's privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn't one posted, it should be taken as a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.

4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true — Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a "deal" that might cost them dearly in the end.

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5. Beware of "phishing" — Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the "buyer" into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an email, BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.

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6. Confirm your online purchase is secure — Shoppers should always look in the address box for the "s" in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the "lock" symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select "Properties." This will let you see the real URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.

7. Pay with a credit card — It's best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn't receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have "zero liability" policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Never wire money and only shop locally on sites like Craigslist.

8. Keep documentation of your order — After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by email. BBB recommends saving a copy of the Web page and any emails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.

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9. Check your credit card statements often — Don't wait for paper statements. BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by either calling the credit card companies or by checking statements online regularly.

10. Know your rights — Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren't shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it's defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it's the company's policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.

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