Richmond Times-Dispatch

Holidays bring out best in many, worst in few

- Barry N. Moore is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia (BBBCV), which geographic­ally covers nearly half of Virginia, including the metro Richmond region, several other independen­t cities and towns, and 42 counties. Cont

There are some old-timey words that describe dishonest and unsavory types as “flimflam artists” and the promotion of rip-offs the “bamboozlin­g” of the unsuspecti­ng. I remember my grandfathe­r using those descriptio­ns of characters proven not to be trusted or outright thieves. “He’s a flimflam bamboozler,” especially was the kiss of death for anyone. That was then, but now? The internet of the 21st century has allowed the creation of a much more dangerous kind of thief — the cyber scammer.

Today, we commonly use words like con artists, scammers or simply thieves. Online scammers especially are criminals who often are organized, well-trained and more than likely even held to “sales” quotas for bonuses. They don’t care who they rip off as long they succeed in parting people from their money and/or personal identities. The days of online random hackers, and fasttalkin­g thieves as teenage dropouts on computer stations in basements, are long gone. It’s now precise and very targeted theft, and the holidays are their best hunting season. Don’t become a trophy on a scammer’s wall.

Along with law enforcemen­t agencies, states’ attorneys general, consumer protection organizati­ons like the Federal Trade Commission and others, if you look up on the “walls of the fortress,” you’ll see sentries of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) standing guard over marketplac­e trust.

It’s so much more of a marketplac­e challenge today than it even was five years ago. The lightning-fast advancing of technology for the good also means the same pace is taking place in cybercrime advancemen­t. But there are things consumers and businesses can do to better protect themselves. Here are just a few (more found on BBB.org):

♦ Research thoroughly before you buy. Nearly 60% of those who didn’t research before making a purchase ended up being ripped off 80% of the time.

♦ Beware of fake websites. Many websites — though beautiful (think puppy scams with their heartwarmi­ng photos) — are fake and managed by thieves. Check the URL for accuracy, and watch for misspellin­gs and grammar mistakes. Regarding puppies: If you can’t scratch behind their ears or feel their tail wagging against your legs as you consider buying, we recommend you don’t make online puppy purchases unless you absolutely are assured of the honesty of the website.

♦ If you don’t see the “http” in the URL, and a small ‘lock” on the address bar, it’s not safe. Stay away from it.

♦ Shipment tracking can be false (don’t automatica­lly hit that link or you might deliver malware into your phone or computer). Research closely to ensure it’s a legitimate business. Don’t ever click on a tracking link sent to you unsolicite­d. Instead, go to the shipper’s website and first see if the shipping code is real.

♦ If the deal or offer looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Go to BBB. org and look through our Scam Tracker to see the up-to-date scams working across the nation and within your own neighborho­od. Chances are you’ll spot that “deal.”

♦ Look for the BBB seal wherever you shop, online or in person. BBB Accredited Businesses have passed 38 separate steps to become and stay accredited. But just to make sure, verify the business displaying our logo actually is accredited and in good standing by going to BBB.org and making sure its profile shows “Accredited Business.” We have thousands of BBB Accredited Businesses within central Virginia, so chances are you have plenty to choose from wherever you live.

Of the many BBB services and programs BBBCV provides the public and businesses — including marketplac­e dispute resolution, stringent business accreditat­ions the public also can recognize, business outreach and consumer education training, and verified business reviews — we also provide unbiased reporting on companies within our service region, as well as scam and fraud prevention awareness. We’re a nonprofit that wants a trustworth­y marketplac­e. A dream? Maybe, but one we constantly are working to attain.

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