7 On your Side: Avoiding holiday scams

7 On your Side: Avoiding holiday scams

It's the season to hope for peace on Earth and good will to people, yet, it's also the season for cons, schemes and scams, but the Better Business Bureau has tips for keeping the season jolly.

Whether it's a malicious email or a stolen wallet, the holidays can turn sour quickly if someone takes advantage of you. The BBB has tips to help consumers stay safe during the season. Local president Carmen Million suggests consumers research the online businesses they use.

"You can check some of these on the BBB web site, if you want to, but you don't want to go to a site based on a link somebody gave you. You want to go directly to the site, and once you're on that site and you've investigated and made sure that privacy policies and all the protections are in place, then you have the option, for instance on

, you won't just buy it on

. They'll have different sellers, but they should have reviews on the site. It'll tell you what their percentage of satisfaction is," said Million.

Million urges consumers to protect themselves by checking out return policies and such beforehand, and she suggests being extremely cautious with Craigslist offers.

"If these people don't allow you to contact them by phone, if it's strictly by email, that may be a warning sign -- if the deal sounds too good to be true. Just like on the screen I just showed you with the

, it showed you all the different prices. That allows you to see if that was a price that was realistic," said Million.

As well, if they offer excuses as to why they can't meet with or talk to you, watch out -- especially on big ticket items.

"One of the common excuses is that they're in the army or they're in the military or they're going to be transferred, so they have to get rid of this item very quickly, they'll pay the shipping and you will get it for a great price," said Million.

There are a number of agencies to report fraud.

As well, Million advises consumers to ask about refund policies and keep close watch online of their spending habits to check for anything that doesn't match up.

Check out these other BBB tips:

1. Check BBB Business Reviews –

All year long, and especially during the holidays, some websites will advertise deals that are too good to be true. Before paying for that deal online, always check out a company's BBB Business review at

and verify the company's physical address and contact information.

2. Exercise Caution with Craigslist –

When buying from free bulletin board sites, always do your transactions in person, and bring a friend with you if you don't feel comfortable meeting with the advertiser alone. Most importantly, do not wire money to the seller. Having physical meetings where goods are exchanged will give you a better chance of avoiding a scam. Additionally, check out seller ratings or read reviews if you're buying from EBay.  A good rule of thumb for any online shopping? If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Keep Your Wallet Safe –

Make sure you stay aware of your surroundings during the mad rush of holiday shopping. If you're not paying attention, thieves can easily swipe your wallet or glance over your shoulder for PIN and card numbers. Make a conscious effort to cover a keypad when entering in a PIN number, always put your cards in a secure place and keep your wallet guarded.

4.  Research Charities –

Scammers will often take advantage of one's goodwill, especially during the holidays. Before donating, check to see if your chosen charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance's

. Avoid charities that ask for immediate donations or appear unprepared to carry out their cause.

5. Be Careful with Your Email –

Exercise safe email practices by only clicking on links or attachments that you know are from secure sources. Messages that claim to have links with packaging information are common, so keep track of your spending habits online and check for anything that doesn't match up (email addresses, typos, grammatical mistakes, etc.). For an extra layer of protection, keep your anti virus software on your computer current.

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