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Holiday scams reported

When Star-News employee Carlene Anderson decided to buy a North Face jacket from an online company, she thought she was getting not only a head start on her Chris-tmas shopping, but also a good deal.

Turns out, she was wrong on both fronts.

Anderson, like thousands others across the nation, fell victim to a bogus Internet site. The site looked similar to the corporate site, but her daughter, who placed the order for her, realized something wasn’t right when she received a confirmation e-mail in broken English that informed them the company name and address appearing on Anderson’s billing statement would be different than the Web site’s.

“In the span of three minutes, we had placed the order and canceled it, because right away, we knew something wasn’t right,” Anderson said. “Still, they hit my credit card with a 50 percent ‘restocking fee,’ even though we canceled order before it really had time to process.”

Luckily for Anderson, her credit card company has protection against transactions of this type. Other shoppers aren’t so lucky.

According to scambusters.org, an online Web site dedicated to informing consumers about Internet fraud, more than half of all consumers are planning their holiday shopping this year.

“Web sites offering non-existent gifts or cheap and nasty imitations are the main threat during the holiday season,” reported site founder Dr. Audri Lanford. “It’s best to protect yourself.”

The site offers these tips:

• Don’t use a debit card for online shopping. If there is a problem, a debit card could give phishers or hackers access to your entire checking and/or savings account. Plus, most debit cards don’t have the same protections that credit cards offer.

• Make sure all of your security software is up-to-date before you do your online shopping. That includes anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and firewalls.

• Use a separate e-mail account for your online shopping. You can set up a free e-mail account on Google’s Gmail or Yahoo, among others.

• Check the privacy policy of any Web site you plan to purchase from. Make sure they have a privacy policy, that your data stay private to the merchant, and that they don’t sell or rent your information to third parties.

• Never enter personal information into a pop-up screen. Unauthorized pop-up screens can be created by identity thieves, and the screen may be completely unrelated to the Web sites you are visiting. Legitimate companies don’t ask you to enter personal or financial information on pop-up screens.

• Never respond to e-mails asking you to “confirm” recent transactions after you shop. These are phishing scams that coincidentally are sent around the time you shop.

One can report online shopping fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint or to the Better Business Bureau at www.odr.bbb.org.

Also, remember if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is – just ask Cindy Martin.

Martin was recently contacted by someone claiming to be from Wal-Mart looking to reward her with a $400 gift card for me for customer appreciation.

“All I had to do was give him my credit card number to cover the $1.95 delivery charge,” she said.

Knowing something wasn’t quite right, Martin said she asked for a call back number.

“He said he couldn’t give me one,” she said. “I told him that I’d send him a money order for the $1.95 if he’d give me an address and was told they didn’t take money orders. Then, the guy told me to just hang up and stop wasting his time. So, I did.”

Martin said she called Walmart.

“They said if they were giving away anything, I’d have been asked to come into the store and sign something,” she said.

Martin reported the call to police.

“People need to know this is not legit,” she said.