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Better Business Bureau: Internet holiday scams

By By Alan Bligh
Dec. 8, 2012 at 6:08 a.m.


As we all know, many shoppers are looking for the best gift options for family and friends. Gift cards may seem like a simple solution. We as consumers have a new ally to insure we are treated fairly. It's the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which took effect in 2010. This act established standards that give consumers additional protections when using gift cards. The standards prohibit retailers from:

Setting expiration dates less than five years after the card is purchased; and

Charging dormancy, inactivity and service fees unless the card has not been used for at least 12 months.

These standards apply to store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express. But there are some details the CARD Act doesn't cover. For example, issuers can still charge fees every time the card is used, the balance is checked, a replacement card is requested or when customer service is called.



Scammers don't take a holiday

As the 2012 holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, consumers need to be alert for Internet grinches ready to sabotage your festivities. Here are some examples of these scams:

Websites selling knockoff sports jerseys and other clothing items, usually at prices well below the market.

Sites selling a variety of electronic items, again at deeply reduced prices.

Craigslist listings offering new or used items at attractive prices.

Internet sales of sports and celebrity autographs and other memorabilia.

In all of these cases, consumers receive either poor quality merchandise or no merchandise at all.

Better Business Bureau suggests that consumers use caution when dealing with any unfamiliar individual or business. Be particularly wary of any transactions requiring difficult-to-trace payments like MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot.



Who are the victims?

On a weekly basis, I discuss scams and victims. But have you ever wondered who falls for these often obvious bad deals? A recent research project conducted by the AARP Education Foundation gives us some idea. It seems education, gender and income have little effect on the likelihood of a consumer becoming a scam victim. However, different kinds of scams seem to lure different types of people. For example,

Lottery scam victims are more likely to be single, less likely to have gone to college and report income of less than $50,000 per year.

Investment scam victims are more likely to be male, more likely to have some college education and report an annual income of $50,000 or more.

And what about those prescription drug and identity theft victims? Well, they are more likely to be female and single, less likely to have gone to college, and report an annual income of less than $50,000.

Remember though, smart people fall victim to scams every day.



Online pharmacies

As more consumers search for less expensive alternatives to the high cost of prescription drugs, many have turned to online pharmacies. BBB is warning that finding a safe site to order from could prove difficult. According to a report released by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 97 percent of 10,000 websites analyzed were operating out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy law.

Ordering prescriptions through a rogue operator could put you or your family at risk. Many websites selling prescription drugs are unlicensed, operating illegally, or operating from foreign countries. According to the FBI, a legitimate online pharmacy will require prescriptions from a licensed doctor and a detailed medical history.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by email at abligh@corpuschristi.bbb.org.

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