DETROIT -

With Cyber Monday approaching, consumers should educate themselves to prevent fraud, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced today.

"Cyber Monday," the year's busiest online shopping day, occurs each year following the Thanksgiving weekend, bringing with it the risk of fraud. Consumers sometimes lose their money, receive counterfeit merchandise or become victims of credit card fraud on this day.

"Like all technology, online shopping offers benefits and risks," McQuade said. "Online shopping offers convenience and information for comparison shopping, but consumers should do their homework before sharing credit card information online."

"It's especially critical around the holiday shopping season that consumers act as the first line of defense to protect themselves from losing their hard earned money by being ripped off," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Marlon Miller. "There are three basic principles consumers should consider to avoid being victims of scams for both in-person retail and online shopping: price, location and quality. Substandard quality, prices far below retail, and goods being sold at suspicious websites or at locations not ordinarily associated with a particular brand should set off red flags to the consumer."

FBI special Agent Paul M. Abbate joined McQuade and Miller in the announcement to emphasize the importance of being skeptical and protecting information while shopping online.

"Online consumers should be extra vigilant in their Internet purchases and activity during the holiday season," Abbate said. "The FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) see significant increases around Cyber Monday, and thereafter, in online scams."

Abbate went on to say that fraud schemes are often associated with products or gift cards being sold for dramatically reduced prices, offering sales on high-demand items, and 'phishing' emails, text messages, or phone calls that purport to come from established and well-known retailers, asking shoppers to verify credit card numbers, bank accounts, or detailed personal information.

These and other suspicious offers or communications are utilized by criminals as traps amidst the convenience of the online shopping environment. The FBI and IC3offer tips to help avoid being a victim of these and other cyber scams, particularly during the holiday season.

Here are some tips the FBI suggests for protecting yourself from online fraud.

- Purchase merchandise only from reputable sellers.

- Obtain a physical address and phone number rather than a post office box, and call the seller to see if the number is correct and working.

- Send an email to the seller to make sure the email address is active.

- Check with the Better Business Bureau in the seller's area.

- Inquire about returns and warranties.

- Be wary of overseas sellers, who may not be subject to recourse by U.S. law enforcement.

- Don't judge a company by its website. Impressive-looking websites can be set up quickly.

- Use a credit card for purchases rather than a money order or personal check if your credit card company allows you to dispute charges if something goes wrong.

- Shop around to educate yourself about the price range for the item; if the deal is too good to be true, it probably isn't legitimate.

Sometimes, despite a consumer's best efforts, fraud still occurs. If you are a victim of an internet crime, you may report it at the Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime

Center, at www.ic3.gov . Also visit, http://www.iprcenter.gov/WebsiteFraudRedFlagTipSheet_12412.pdf/view for additional information.