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Malicious Mother's Day 'gifts'

Last-minute giving can be fraught with peril. Beware the traps of online 'deals' and even e-cards that may contain unwelcome surprises.

By Mitch Lipka May 8, 2013 2:46PM
Woman shopping online © Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty ImagesOnline scammers, if nothing else, know their holidays. Happy Mother's Day!

Scams are effective when they are believable. And not everyone has the same ability to detect something that seems a bit off. So, crooks create new opportunities to dupe people at every chance -- whether it's capitalizing on tragedy or exploiting consumers' desire for deals connected to holidays.

Mother's Day is no exception. Indeed, the warnings are flying as the holiday approaches because the scammers are all geared up and ready for you. So, here are some things to watch for when you hunt for last-minute Mother's Day gifts.

The website Scambook, which catalogs consumer complaints, says these are some of the most common scams connected to Mother's Day to be concerned about: 
  • Phony online stores. The prices are low. The deals look great. It could be just about any kind of product you'd buy for Mom, from clothing to jewelry. But after you place your order, they have your money and Mom ends up with nothing.
  • Evil e-cards. You send Mom an e-card and she ends up with a virus or malware that could allow crooks to get control of her computer or extract personal information.
  • (Really) bad coupons. You go hunting for a way to get a discount on flowers or a way to make brunch cheaper. Who doesn't want to save on these costly Mother's Day traditions? So, there's the opportunity for scammers, who try to sell worthless discount vouchers or get you to download viruses or malware.

Also, watch out for counterfeiter sites, where big brand names are being sold for far less than the normal retail. The company MarkMonitor, which works to protect brands, warns that when you're searching with terms including "cheap" and "discount" you will greatly increase your likelihood of finding a site that's selling phony goods. And there are a lot of knockoff handbags, watches and electronics being sold.

So, what do you do to avoid getting scammed and really messing up Mother's Day for you and Mom?

Well, a good place to start is to stick with known entities. Whether they are local establishments or online stores you've used before, this isn't the best time to begin experimenting. If you just can't help yourself, at least do a little bit of homework and search for complaints about the site you're considering making a purchase from.

When you do shop online, use methods of payment that offer some degree of protection, like a credit card or a well-established service such as PayPal. Remember that using a debit card pulls cash from your bank account that could be tied up in a dispute. And using a wire-transfer service, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, means a cash transaction with virtually no chance of recovering any loss.

Lastly, consider skipping the e-card and running out real quick to get Mom a traditional card and toss it in the mail while there's still a chance it can get to her in time.

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