Beware of scammers looking to spoil Mother's Day

By Tod MarksLifestyle and BudgetConsumer Reports

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, Easter, or Thanksgiving, the bad guys are always out to ruin the holidays. With Mother’s Day approaching, consumers are expected to spend $20 billion on flower arrangements, jewelry, spa treatments, brunches, and other baubles to show their appreciation, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s an average of $163 per mom.

Shoppers will shell out more than $2 billion for flowers alone, and with so much at stake, con artists are trying to get in on the action. E-mails dangling fake vouchers and coupons for bouquets and floral arrangements (as well as jewelry and restaurant bargains) are common this time of year. Often, they’re nothing more than phishing expeditions. Phishing e-mails contain harmful links that lead to phony sites looking to steal personal and credit card information from unsuspecting consumers who are willing to share the details in exchange for promised discounts.

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There are other forms of phising as well. If you receive a message that seems to be from a merchant you’ve done business with, saying there’s a problem with your order or that you need to verify billing information, don’t open any attachments or click on the link. Contact the company directly by telephone to ask about the veracity of the e-mail.

Apply the same scrutiny to electronic greeting cards, or e-cards. They’re as likely to contain destructive malware as warm wishes. Don’t open the card unless you recognize the name of the sender or that the name of the sender is in the body or the message. Another option: do a quick search of the site that generated the e-card to determine if it’s legitimate.

Most of the complaints about florists reported to the Better Business Bureau involve late or wrong deliveries, or orders that were never delivered at all. Before ordering, check out the BBB's Business Review to review a firm’s history of complaints. Other tips:

Know the guarantee. Insist on a written receipt for your order and ask about the refund policy if the delivery is late, never arrives or is in poor condition. Find out how customer complaints are handled and what recourse you will have if the arrangement is unsatisfactory. If you pay by credit card, you can dispute the charges if the arrangement falls short of expectations.

Order securely. Look for signs that online purchases are secure. If shopping online and providing payment information, the beginning of the website address should change from http to https, indicating that the information is encrypted—turned into code that can only be read by the seller. Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen.

Understand key dates. Allow time for shipping and delivery. Check with the florist, retailer, or website to be certain that you have allowed ample time for delivery. Make sure that this date is specified clearly and guaranteed when you order.

Be clear about fees. If you order ahead of time, delivery and other charges will be less than last-minute or overnight fees. Some florists offer discounts for deliveries a day or two before a major holiday, since that lightens their burden.

–Tod Marks

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