Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON — The sudden death of Kobe Bryant has many fans rushing to buy clothing and memorabilia that commemorates the life of the five-time NBA champion.

A few hours after the news broke Sunday about Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash in California, I was sitting in church waiting for service to start when a fellow parishioner asked if I thought it was OK to order from a certain online site. He wanted to purchase a memorial T-shirt.

The black shirts were going fast, and he needed to act quickly before they sold out, according to a pressuring message on the site.

Like Marvel’s Peter Parker, my “spider sense” indicated impending danger.

I asked the church member if he had ever shopped at the site before. He hadn’t. He had just been searching on the Internet for something to remember the basketball player by and saw a shirt he liked.

But I cautioned him that the site might be a fake, in which case he would never receive the shirt. Or maybe it was set up by a scammer as a way to capture his credit card information so the data could be used to make fraudulent purchases.

I strongly suggested that he stick with a trustworthy online retailer. The man’s wife, who had been listening to our conversation, smiled.

“Thank you,” she mouthed after her husband decided to wait and do some additional research.

Scammers are quick to home in on people’s curiosity, grief and/or admiration following the death of a high-profile personality.

The Better Business Bureau issued a warning this week cautioning consumers to watch out for Bryant-related clickbait and to “not let their mourning cloud their judgment.”

“Every time there’s a celebrity death, we see scammers take advantage of people,” said Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.

Following the death of comedian Robin Williams in 2014, an email circulated on Facebook promising a “goodbye” video that was supposedly recorded by the actor just before he took his own life.

But when people clicked the link, they were sent to a fake BBC News site, according to an advisory issued at the time by Symantec, a security software company, which has since changed its name to Norton LifeLock. Users were told they had to install an application on their computer or fill out a survey to view the video, which didn’t exist.

“Scammers operating these sites use affiliate programs to earn money for the completion of surveys and file downloads,” the cybersecurity company warned.

Sham links could contain malware intended to capture your personal and financial data, which could lead to identity theft, Hutt said.

“We expect the scammers to do something similar to what they did when Robin Williams died,” she said.

Be careful of clicking links promising that proceeds from the sale of Bryant memorabilia will go to a charity. Use caution when clicking stories with sensational headlines teasing “never seen before” videos or photos of Bryant and his family. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in the helicopter crash as well.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to consumers either looking for Bryant merchandise or searching for articles about his life and death.

• Watch out for fake shopping sites. Avoid unfamiliar websites. Scammers can also easily impersonate legitimate online shopping sites. Don’t follow a link to a site. Search for it yourself.

• Don’t rush to purchase stuff. “Take your time,” Hutt urged. “There will be plenty of opportunities to buy merchandise or memorabilia. If you are being rushed, that’s a big red flag — and a sign that something might be shady.”

• Check for the security settings. If the site is secure, its web address should start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping-cart page. If you hover over a link you can see its true destination.

• Use credit not debit. Keep in mind that your debit card is directly tied to your bank account. There is not much of a delay from the time of your purchase until the funds are withdrawn. This means fraudulent transactions can quickly do a lot of damage. Consider using a credit card for online purchases. The consumer protections are stronger for credit card users. If your credit card is used without your permission, you can only be held liable for up to $50. And even then, most banks won’t try to collect that from you. If a product is damaged or not delivered, you can dispute the charges and you have an ally — your credit card issuer — which can withhold payment until the situation is investigated and settled.

• Look out for deceitful discounts. I know you want to save money, but don’t respond to an unsolicited email from an unknown source promising some great deal.

Just be careful out there, and exercise extreme caution if you’re looking for something to remind you of Bryant’s legacy.

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