The Consumer Federation of America has advice for online shoppers to keep their wallets and identities safe this holiday season.
"Unfortunately, there are scam artists and some less-than-honest retailers that take advantage of unwary buyers," said Susan Grant, CFA director of consumer protection.
The CFA offered these tips:
* Check out unfamiliar sellers. Read customer reviews of retailers, which are available at many price-comparison sites. Search for complaints at the Better Business Bureau. And research the seller on consumer-complaint sites. The CFA previously recommended such sites as My3Cents.com, Complaints.com, PissedConsumer.com, ConsumerAffairs.com andRipoffReport.com.
* Use credit cards. Credit cards provide the best protection because you can dispute charges, putting the card company between your money and a fraudulent retailer.
Debit cards also have some protections, but you might be without your money for a while until it's replaced in your account. And with debit cards you don't have the legal right to dispute debits if the goods were misrepresented or were never delivered, according to the CFA. PayPal also offers some buyer protection, Grant said.
* Don't use money transfers. "Legitimate sellers don't ask for payment that way," Grant said. Be suspicious of any seller asking for payment via Western Union or MoneyGram. "Money transfer services should only be used to send money to people you have met in person and know well, not to strangers," she said.
* Look for secure sites. Upon checkout, look at the Web address "https" or "shttp," where the "S" stands for secure. Some browsers use icons, such as a padlock or a broken key made whole.
* Keep records. Save details of transactions. You might even print it to avoid losing information when a computer drive dies.
* Beware of technological scams. Legitimate companies don't ask you to confirm information by e-mail, called "phishing," or phone text message, known as "smishing." "Nobody needs to confirm your information if they already have it," Grant said.