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COVID-19 has upended the world and the economy, with massive changes to retail, which means the holiday shopping season is likely to look very different in 2020. However, the National Retail Federation estimates consumers will still spend an average of nearly $1,000 this year on gifts, decorations and other holiday items. Many retailers are already running Black Friday-style sales. With 60 percent of holiday shoppers planning to shop online, Cyber Monday — Nov. 30 this year — is poised to be bigger than ever this year.

While the vast majority of online retailers are reliable, some are not. As online shopping has skyrocketed in 2020, so has the number of complaints to Better Business Bureau about online retailers, with more than 53,000 complaints logged so far in 2020. Reports to BBB Scam Tracker about online purchase scams have spiked as well, with more than 15,000 scam reports in 2020. BBB published a special report on online scams in October 2020.

Shopping online may save time and money, but this year it also could save lives during this COVID-19 holiday season. BBB reminds shoppers to be careful when shopping online. Fraudsters can separate shoppers from their money or steal their personal information. Some companies may not be able to deliver gifts in time for the holidays.

Shoppers can prepare themselves for online shopping by watching ads and browsing for the items they're seeking in advance. Many online retailers already have set up sites where Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers will be advertised. Unless you're informed, it can be hard to tell whether an online deal actually will save you money. Read a site's policies for returns and understand shipping schedules before you enter your credit card number.

BBB's 10 tips for safe online shopping are as follows:

1. Protect your computer. Install a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly.

2. Check a site's security settings before entering financial data, such as a credit card number. If the site is secure, the URL (web address) on the payment page should start with "https://."

3. Shop trustworthy websites. Look for BBB Accredited Business seals on websites and click to confirm they're valid. BBB's dynamic seal will take you to a site's BBB Business Profile. You also may find reviews at bbb.org.

4. Protect personal information. Read a site's privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. Don't enter that information on unsolicited emails. If a site lacks a privacy policy, it could be a red flag the site could sell your information without your permission.

5. Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may display free or low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs, or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.

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6. Beware of phishing. Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order, account or a package to lure the buyer into revealing financial information. If you receive such an email, BBB recommends you call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm a problem.

7. Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don't receive an item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are any unauthorized charges on the card, and many card issuers have zero-liability policies if someone steals and uses your card number. Check your credit card statement regularly for unauthorized charges. Never wire money to someone you don't know.

8. Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page of an order or emails confirming the order until you receive the item and are satisfied.

9. Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and, if possible, how it will be shipped. The tracking number can help you find a lost order. If the order can be picked up contact-free at a brick-and-mortar location, consider this option as well.

10. Know your rights. Federal law requires orders made by phone, mail or online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods aren't shipped on time, shoppers can cancel and demand a refund. Consumers also may reject merchandise if it is defective or was misrepresented.

Check a company's BBB Business Profile before you make a purchase by going to bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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