Protect yourself from these 5 online scams

(MoneyWatch) Nearly 60 percent of U.S. consumers say they'd rather shop online than go to the mall, according to a recent  Nielsen survey. But in some cases, the convenience of clicking can come at the expense of safety. 

Protect yourself this summer by avoiding the following online scams:

Cruise Deals
You may be in the habit of making all your travel plans online, but be careful when it comes to booking a stateroom on a cruise ship. The Better Business Bureau received more than 1,300 complaints regarding cruise lines and free-cruise scams last year.

"Many times, scammers will send numerous e-mails, postcards, and other mailings trying to get you to call them in order to claim your 'free cruise.' Don't be fooled by professional looking websites either. Gather as much information as you can about the business..." said Hutt.

Keywords that should raise a red flag include "free," "discounted," or "exceptional offers."

Avoid getting ripped off by doing research. Look up reputable sites for reviews on the cruise line you are planning to purchase from. Unless you initiate the call and have confirmed that the site you plan to book a cruise on is legitimate, do not reveal your credit card information.

Designer Goods

Just as a $30 Birkin bag on the street corner is too good to be true, so is the $200 Swiss watch online. "In a tight economy, consumers are always looking to save a buck or two," said Katherine Hutt, spokesperson for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "Too often, what looks to be a 'great deal' is really a shoddy knock-off in disguise."

Counterfeit goods have become a $650 billion global industry, and counterfeited products shipped to America from overseas cause U.S. companies to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year in sales, according to DailyFinance.

Best bet: Buy the product from the brand's official website or from a reputable retailer.

Summer Jobs

While the internet is a great tool for researching job opportunities, it's also fertile ground for ripoff artists.

"Many students seeking summer jobs may have little to no previous work experience, and are tempted to apply for jobs that require limited work experience but offer high salaries," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "However, the reality is these offers may be scams rather than legitimate work opportunities."

If a site requires that you send money to have access to interview "prep" and top-level clients, it is a scam, warns the Federal Trade Commission. You end up paying for these services, only to find out there is no job.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice to those seeking jobs online:

  • Do not ever send money to a company in exchange for a job position. In scams, fees can be requested for "information kits"; "administrative costs"; "materials", etc. This usually ends up with the customer receiving nothing, or not receiving what they expected and not being able to get their money back.
  • Do not give out your personal financial information. A potential legitimate employer will not request your bank account, credit card or PayPal account number. Only provide your banking information if you are hired by a legitimate company and you choose to have your paycheck direct deposited.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

As college debts are ballooning in this rough economic period, more parents and students are looking online for available scholarships and funding to be used toward the cost of attending college.

Yet, the BBB warns parents about websites related to scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages which are made available for a fee.

"Getting a college education can be the first step toward finding a promising career," said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. "But students shouldn't squander their scarce resources on companies that promise to find aid but never deliver."

Be wary of sites that try to collect an advanced fee for scholarship opportunities. Parents and students who fall into the trap of college scholarship rip-offs lose $100 million annually; scam artists pose as legitimate scholarship matching services or government agencies, according to nonprofit resource FinAid.

Legitimate and high-quality scholarships should be free. Check out reliable websites that offer information about scholarships and college financial aid, such as Federal Student Aid (FSA) from the U.S. Department of Education.

Timeshares
With online scams, it is not only buying online that poses dangers. There are pitfalls for sellers too. With the economic downturn, many timeshare owners can no longer afford to pay annual fees or want to save money by selling their stake in the property. Yet, the BBB warns that owners should never try to sell their timeshare online.

Sellers should be on alert when companies want to charge upfront fees for services such as processing and/or legal fees. Sellers should never give bank information or their Social Security number to people who claim to have buyers, as these sellers can fall victim to scam artists posing as timeshare resellers.

The BBB advises potential sellers to consider using a company that offers to sell for a fee only after the timeshare is sold.

Other tips to consider:
Start with the BBB. Visit bbb.org to check out the review of a company before doing business with them.

Read the fine print. Especially when selling a timeshare, make sure to read the contract carefully. Find out if the company is actually in the business of selling timeshares or simply charging to advertise the listing.

Never wire money. Credit cards offer a certain amount of fraud protection that you cannot get if you use a wire service. Walk away from any deal that requires you to wire money or pay cash.

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