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BBB advises caution on Cyber Monday; anyone can create a website

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After a heavy day of shopping at the malls on Black Friday, consumers will be looking to find some deals on the Internet on what has been called Cyber Monday - the Monday after Thanksgiving.

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According to Shop.org, 84 percent of retailers will have a Cyber Monday promotion this year, and 85 million people plan to shop online that day.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds consumers to do their homework on any online company from which they are ordering.

"Cyber Monday is a great day to find deals online," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB, "but anyone can create a website. We urge consumers to take a few extra precautionary steps to ensure they are dealing with reputable companies."

Here's a list of tips you should consult when shopping online:

--Trust your instincts. If you don't feel comfortable buying or bidding on an item over the Web, or if you feel pressured to place your order immediately, maybe you should hold off. If a site has poor grammar, this may be a sign that it is being run overseas. Try to do business with a U.S. company for more protection.

--Do your homework. If you are not familiar with the online company, take time to contact the BBB at www.bbb.org to obtain a report on the company. The online site should list the physical address and phone number for the company.

--Be knowledgeable about Web-based auctions. Take special care to familiarize yourself not only with the rules and policies of the auction site itself but with the legal terms (warranties, refund policy, etc.) of the seller's items that you wish to bid on.

--Double check pricing. Comparison pricing is a key component to finding a good value. Whether the product is being sold as new or used, be suspicious of prices that are too good to be true. Also consider carefully whether you may be paying too much for an item, particularly if you're bidding through an auction site. You may want to comparison shop, online or offline, before you buy.

--Find and read the privacy policy. Read the privacy policy carefully to find out what information the seller is gathering from you, how the information will be used, and how you can stop the process. If a site does not have a privacy policy posted, you may not want to do business with that company. If it does have a privacy policy, there will probably be a link to it from the seller's home page, or it could be included with the legal terms.

--Review the return, refund and shipping and handling policies as well as the other legal terms. If you can't find them, ask the seller through an e-mail or telephone call to indicate where they are on the site or to provide them to you in writing. Merchants must ship your order as advertised or within 30 days. If you do not receive your order within 30 days, you have the right to cancel the purchase.

--Check that the Internet connections are secure. Before you give your payment information, there are various icons and software programs that indicate that security software is in place. Check if the Web address on the page that asks for your credit card information begins with "https:" The "s" tells you that security technology is in place. Other ways to tell the website uses security software is if your browser displays the icon of a locked padlock or an unbroken key at the bottom of the screen, or you see an icon of a lock on the status bar.

--Give information required and nothing more. Don't give your Social Security number, or any personal information that is not absolutely necessary. Answer questions that have asterisks only.

--Use the safest way to pay on the Internet. Pay for your order using a credit card. If you have an unauthorized charge on your credit card, under federal law your liability is limited to $50. You may have more options in resolving disputes and may benefit from extended warranties if you use a credit card.

--Print the terms. You should print out and date a copy of terms, conditions, warranties, item description, company information, even confirming e-mails, and save them with your purchase records.

--Ensure the safe delivery of your item. If you're concerned about the safety of your package if there's no one home to receive it, ask whether you can specify that the shipper must receive a signature before leaving the package. Or, it may be safer to have the package delivered to your office.

--Inspect your purchase. Look at your purchase carefully as soon as you receive it. Contact the seller as soon as possible if you discover a problem with it. Tell the seller in writing about any problem that you are concerned with, ask for a repair or refund, and keep a copy of your correspondence.

--Check your statement. Identity theft is a serious problem in the United States. Examine your credit card statements to be sure that you have made/authorized all purchases.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public.

Contact the BBB at www.thefirstbbb.org or (651) 699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

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