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Don’t be Fooled by these Holiday Scams

This holiday season, will you be one of the 197 million Americans to shop online, according to eMarketer? Holiday shoppers will go online to buy everything from gift cards to cars, flat screen TVs to smartphones. And at least some of them will have their holiday spirit dampened by scammers who use a variety of schemes to convince victims to send money for a bogus purchase.“The holiday shopping season is an opportunity for scammers,” says Dan Marostica, vice president of fraud risk management of Western Union, a leading money transfer company. “In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, con artists are counting on Americans’ desire for a good deal to help them cheat holiday shoppers out of their hard-earned money.”

Scammers attempt to contact consumers on a variety of online venues, from popular auction and free-ad websites to social media and even pop-up ads. Some scenarios hinge on one tactic – convincing the buyer to send money to the scammer via money transfer.

“Criminals may purport to be selling an item privately and claim they can only accept a money transfer,” Marostica says. “Or they may be offering something for ‘free’ like a puppy, simply asking the buyer to send a money transfer to pay for shipping. These cheats know that once a money transfer is paid it is difficult for the victims to get their money back from the seller.

As the holidays approach, follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim of an online purchase scam:

* Never pay for an online purchase by sending a money transfer to an individual.

* When shopping online, stick to established, reputable retail sites or auction sites that have clearly defined policies for how they will help settle a dispute between buyers and sellers.

* Look for visual cues that a website is secure, such as a URL address that begins with “https” or a lock symbol on the lower part of the page. These signs indicate a website has taken security measures.

* If you can’t find a company’s physical address and customer service phone number on its website, consider doing business elsewhere.

* Be wary of private sellers offering goods at extremely low prices, or those who require you to pay by money transfer. Don’t believe a seller who claims your money transfer will be held in escrow – Western Union does not offer an escrow service – or one who suggests you put the money transfer in a friend’s name for security purposes changing it after you receive the goods. Once the criminal has your friend’s name, he or she may be able to pick up the money transfer.

“Money transfer is a great way to send money to family and friends for the holidays, but you should never use it when dealing with someone you haven’t met in person,” Marostica says. “And you should never send a money transfer to pay for goods or services from an individual on the Internet.

To learn more about fraud prevention, visit www.westernunion.com/stopfraud.

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