As we approach Thanksgiving — and the Back Friday/Cyber Monday shopping epoch — feast on this: Forbes reports 2017 Thanksgiving weekend shoppers signaled a “shifting presence for the convenience and efficiency of online shopping.”

That’s because a whopping third exclusively shopped online. Some 40-percent shopped both in-store and online. Only about a quarter exclusively shopped in a store.

When the dust settled, Hitwise.com reported the top 50 retailers — led by Amazon — processed 54.2 million online transactions between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.

Adobe Digital Insights tallied all 2017 holiday season online shopping sales at $108 billion, almost 15 percent higher than 2016. And for all of 2017, e-commerce sales amounted to $453 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The money here? HUGE.

So, it’s not surprising that the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org received more complaints about merchandise scams in 2017 than any other type of online fraud, making up nearly 40-percent of the internet scam complaints.

“Internet merchandise scams come in many forms — often involving bogus sales of high-dollar goods such as electronics, designer clothing, and even pets,” NCL explains.

“Many victims first encounter these scams via online ads promising deep discounts on popular merchandise. When they click on the ads, they are directed to a website to enter payment information or are instructed to contact a scammer directly. Unfortunately, once the money is paid, the merchandise never arrives. In many cases, buyers report being contacted again and instructed to send more money to cover fake ‘shipping’ or ‘insurance’ charges.”

The takeaway? Practice safety first when shopping online.

Looking for an item or company using a search engine like Google? Don’t automatically click on the first result, even if it looks like the one you want. Imposter websites — with a slightly different URL address — may appear ahead of a legitimate company. Be especially aware of one-day-only promotions for hard-to-find items from unrecognized websites.

Instead, shop online merchants you know and trust. And look for a padlock icon or “https” before purchasing. The “s” means secure, with payment and personal information encrypted.

In addition, the NCL recommends doing a price-check for similar merchandise before trusting an unknown online retailer, especially one advertising on Craigslist.

“If the price listed is far below traditional online retailers (think Amazon, Best Buy, Zappos) for a piece of popular merchandise (such as wireless phones, game consoles, sneakers, or designer clothing), the ‘deal’ could easily be a scam.”

Online shopping normally requires providing an email address so you can be contacted in case of ordering problems. That raises concerns about privacy, hackers and subsequent email spam. The solution? The Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) recommends creating a “throwaway” email address just used for shopping.

Similarly, the ITRC suggests privacy-minded consumers designate a specific, low-limit credit card for all online purchases. “If that card is ever compromised in a web-based data breach, then they know exactly which card was affected and can contact that issuing company to report it.”

With increasing online shopping done on smartphones, avoid making purchases over a wireless connection in a public space. Hackers can lure you to fake sites or apps where they can gather your credit information.

Not sure if a shopping app is legit? The Federal Trade Commission says go directly to the retailer’s website and see if it’s promoted. In addition, look for reviews before downloading. “If the app has no reviews, it was likely created recently and could be a fake. Real apps for big retailers often have thousands of reviews.”

Finally, capitalizing on all the packages being shipped during the holidays, expect scammers to send out more random “failed delivery” imposter emails from USPS, FedEx, or UPS. Delete them. Clicking a link to initiate a requested new delivery date can insert dangerous malware on your device.

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email dmorris@sun-herald.com; or leave a message at 941-206-1114.

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