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How To Avoid Being Ripped Off Online

Top Online Consumer Scams


Online consumers enjoy the conveniences and broad selection of merchandise, services and information available online. But the internet is also a magnet for thieves who want to defraud people out of money. Some of the techniques scam artists use have been around for years, but have been repackaged to work with unsuspecting internet users. Other techniques are much more sophisticated and difficult for the average person to identify.

Here are ten of the top complaints online consumers have reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

Internet Auctions

Shoppers are lured into buying from a "virtual marketplace" that has an abundance of products at super prices. After making their purchase the items received (if received at all) are not the items advertised and are less valuable than promised.

To avoid becoming a victim of this type of scam, the FTC suggests that you always check out the seller and only pay with a credit card or through an escrow service.

Internet Access Services

Consumers are being lured into bogus long-term contracts for internet access or other web services by cashing a check which they believe is free money. Instead they are bound into contracts, with their signature on the back of the check, which often carry large penalties if the contract is cancelled or terminated early.

To avoid being a victim of this type of scam, inspect any check that you receive at your home or business. Be certain to read both sides in its entirety. Look for additional forms inside the envelope and make certain you understand what you are agreeing to if you cash the check. Also, examine your phone bill carefully for unauthorized or extra charges you were not expecting.

Credit Card Fraud

Some internet users have given their credit card numbers online to prove that they are over 18 years of age when visiting adult sites. Later they discover that their credit card has been used for unauthorized purchases or services.

To insure that you do not become victim to this type of scam, only give your credit card information to companies that you trust. If you find an unauthorized charge on your card, always dispute it with your credit card company. Federal law limits your liability to $50 in charges if your card is misused.

International Modem Dialing

Consumers have complained that after downloading a "viewer" or "dialer" computer program for free access to adult material that their phone bills skyrocketed with international long distance fees. According to the FTC, the downloaded programs disconnect the users modem and then reconnect it through an International long-distance number.

To avoid this type of scam, it is advised that you should never download any "free" services without reading all the disclosures about the program. Also, examine your phone bill carefully and report any charges you did not authorize or that you do not understand.

Web Cramming

Want a free website? If so, be very careful about what you are agreeing to because according to the FTC, a common bait used by scammers is to promise a free custom-designed website for a 30-day trial without any obligation to continue the website services after the 30 days are up. Consumers are then finding that they have been billed through their telephone service or they have received a bill later to pay for service that they never accepted or agreed to after the trial period ended.

Again, the best way to avoid this type of scam is to always read the disclosure material carefully and inspect your phone bill. Dispute any unauthorized charges to your phone company.

Multilevel Marketing Plans/ Pyramids

Pyramid schemes have been around for years, yet many unsuspecting people still fall victim to the false promises of making money. Basically what this type of scheme promises is that you can make money through products or services you sell as well as a percentage from the sales of those people you recruit into the program. Not only are many of these schemes illegal, but for those that are legal, there is no way anyone can make money when their only customers are other distributors. What happens instead is that the company selling the inventory to the distributors is the only one profiting from this type of business.

Avoid getting involved in a business that requires you to buy a minimum of expensive inventory, recruit distributors, or commit to a minimum sales volume.

Travel and Vacation

Planning on taking your dream vacation? If so, you will want to be careful of travel and vacation services that offer luxurious trips with lots of "extras" at super low prices. Unfortunately many consumers have found that instead they end up with low-quality accommodations and services or no trip at all. Also, others have had to pay for hidden charges or additional fees after paying for non-refundable trips.

Before doing business with any travel company always get references, a written detailed description of the trip, including the cancellation policy.

Business Opportunities

Many of us dream of being our own boss and having the potential to make huge amounts of money. Many scammers use this type of promise to lure consumers into investing into a business opportunity that ends up being nothing but a money pit.

It is recommended that before investing in any business opportunity, do your research, get everything in writing and take all proposals it all to an attorney to review.

Health Care Products and Services

Many of us are most vulnerable when we or our loved ones are sick. Scammers know this and will take full advantage of our vulnerabilities. One way is through advertising "proven" products and treatments that will cure a serious or fatal illness.

To avoid this type of dangerous scam, always consult your doctor before investing your money and hopes into a "cure-all" treatment or service.

Sources: Federal Trade Commission

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