Do business with companies you know and trust. Be sure you know who the company is and where it is physically located. Businesses operating in cyberspace may be in another part of the country or in another part of the world. Resolving problems with companies that are unfamiliar can be more complicated in long-distance or cross-border transactions. Understand the offer.

Look carefully at the information about the products or services the company is offering, and ask for more information, if needed. A legitimate company will be glad to provide it; a fraudulent marketer won't. Be sure you know what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, the return and cancellation policy, and the terms of any guaranty.

The federal telephone and mail order rule, which also covers orders by computer, requires goods or services to be delivered by the promised time or, if none was stated, within thirty days. Print out the information so that you have documentation if you need it. Check out the company's track record. Ask your state or local consumer protection agency if the company has to be licensed or registered, and with whom, and check to see if it is.

You can also ask consumer agencies and the Better Business Bureau in your area about the company's complaint record. But keep in mind that fraudulent companies can appear and disappear quickly, especially in cyberspace, so lack of a complaint record is no guarantee that a company is legitimate. Be careful to whom you give your financial or other personal information. Don't provide your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security number or other personal information unless you know the company is legitimate and the information is necessary for the transaction. Even with partial information, con artists can make unauthorized charges, deduct money from your account, and impersonate you to get credit in your name. Take your time to decide.

While there may be time limits for special offers, high-pressure sales tactics are often danger signs of fraud. Be aware that there are differences between private sales and sales by a business. All sorts of goods and services are sold or traded by individuals through unsolicited e-mails, newsgroups postings, chat room discussions, web auctions and online classified advertisements. While most people are honest, your legal rights against the seller may not be the same as with a business, and you could have difficulty pursuing your complaint if the merchandise is misrepresented, defective or never delivered. You may be better off paying by credit card than with a check, cash or money order, as long as you know with whom you're doing business.

When you use your credit card for a purchase and there is a problem, you have the right to notify your card issuer that you are disputing the charge, and you don't have to pay it while your dispute is being investigated. It's easier to resolve a problem if you haven't already paid. Also, unless you are purchasing through a secured site (preferably using the new Secured Encryption Technology), it may be safer to provide your payment information by phone or mail rather than online. Don't judge reliability by how nice or flashy a website may seem.

Anyone can create, register and promote a website; it's relatively easy and inexpensive. And just like any other forms of advertising, you can't assume that someone has screened and approved it. Know that people in cyberspace may not always be what they seem. Someone who is sharing a "friendly" tip about a money-making scheme or great bargain in a chat room or on a bulletin board may have an ulterior motive: to make money. And sometimes those friendly people turn out to be crooks! Know that unsolicited e-mail violates computer etiquette and is often used by con artists. It also violates most agreements for Internet service. Report "spamming," as unsolicited e-mail is called, to your online or Internet service provider

. Don't download programs to see pictures, hear music, or get other features from websites you're not familiar with. You could unwittingly download a virus that wipes out your computer files or even hijacks your Internet service, reconnecting you to the Net through an international phone number, resulting in enormous phone charges.

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