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Holidays pose blues for online merchants, buyers

    Whether you want to shop on line or open a shop on line there’s a lot to be mindful of this holiday-buying season, which will be at its busiest the next few weeks.
    U.S. online retail sales are estimated to top $252 billion in 2013, the most ever, and the anticipation has Illinois officials spreading the word on how to keep such exchanges happy instead of harrowing.
    Shopping via the Internet is convenient, but it also opens one’s computer to threats. It’s best to have the latest security software, web browsers and operating system to defend against viruses, malware and other online threats, Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken said.
    The agency spent the month of October on a cyber safety campaign to alert people to understand online risks heading into the buying time of year.
    “We want people to understand how to protect their computer, personal information, business operations and, most importantly, their children from cyber risks,” Monken said.
     Risks can be generated whether the computer is at home, school or work, or with a mobile device. The threats range from mere inconveniences to serious identity theft.
    Monken said the Ready Illinois website ( includes a cyber safety section that provides information and links on the safe use of computers and the Internet at home and businesses.  
    The site also offers information technology “best practices,” including an IT policy template, sample policies and guidance on how to avoid risks associated with the storage of information on photocopiers, fax machines and printers.
    Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said the concerns this time of year are both for consumers  and for people who sell.
    “We suggest that business owners should consider consulting with qualified data security/privacy counsel and a computer security expert before opening shop online. In addition to compliance issues, small businesses can fall prey to con artists who use stolen credit cards to make purchases,” he said.
    Once the rightful card holders dispute the unauthorized charges, the business owner can be left financially responsible for merchandise shipped before a card is discovered stolen, Mulford said.
    The state does not have a general business guide on how to sell things online, he said.
    On the consumer’s side, Mulford offered some tips for looking at an online retailer. Ask yourself some questions.
    Does the retailer:
    • advertise its products and services truthfully?
    • deliver as promised?
    • comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s mail order rule?
    • disclose its return and refund policy , or its privacy policy, in a prominent place on its website?
    • take appropriate steps to protect its customers’ sensitive personal information?
    • have a plan to identify and respond to any security breaches of its website or its customers’ sensitive personal information?
     A guidance policy dealing with security breaches is available on the Illinois Attorney General’s website.
    While that office does not keep stats for holiday cyber fraud, it traditionally puts consumers on notice late in the year.
    “We issue consumer alerts around holiday time because that is when the highest volume of online sales occur,” Mulford said.
    To protect yourself while shopping online, he suggested you:
    • check out sellers in advance to ensure they are reputable.  Search for online reviews of the merchant and note phone numbers and physical addresses of vendors in case you have a problem with your transaction or billing.
    • make sure the site is legitimate before you enter your personal and financial information.  Look for a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https.  This indicates the purchase is encrypted or secured.
    • use safe payment options.  Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered.
    • print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale and copies of any email exchange with the seller.
    • turn your computer off when you’re finished shopping or when it’s not in use.  Leaving your computer on gives scammers 24/7 access to your computer to install malware and commit cyber crimes.
    More online safety tips are on the Ready Illinois website.

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