You won’t be the only one out looking for a steal as the holiday shopping season shifts into high gear over the long weekend.
More than 70 percent of U.S. adults are expected to log on or head to malls and retail stores to do some gift buying between today and Monday, according to the National Retail Federation.
The frenzy also makes it prime hunting time from scam artists and thieves. And if you’re not careful, they could end up spoiling your holiday — or worse.
The threat is very real. A study by the AARP found seven in 10 adults, the same percentage the NRF predicts will be shopping between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, failed a short quiz on how to avoid becoming a scam victim.
A little awareness and caution, however, will go a long way toward keeping your money and identity safe.
Following are some warnings and simple tips on how to avoid becoming a victim. They come from a variety of sources, including Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, Call for Action, AARP, Better Business Bureau, Scambusters and others:
Here are their warnings about common holiday scams, along with tips on how to avoid them. Here’s a quick overview.
Problem: Convenience is driving a boom in online shopping, but there are risks to consumers. Thieves and scammers watch for opportunities to swipe boxes off doorsteps after the FedEx or UPS truck pulls away.
Solution: If you work during the day or can’t be at home when the package is scheduled for delivery, have the the package sent to a work address or or a trusted friend or neighbor.
Tips: Hill said Amazon customers can have their packages left at an “Amazon Locker” to be picked up at their convenience. There are eight locations for this service in the Indianapolis area. A similar service can be requested for UPS and other major mailing companies.
Problem: Data breaches are scary and unpredictable, leading to identity theft and crooks getting to your money.
Solution: The best way to avoid data breaches is to use cash rather than a credit or debit card. While potentially less convenient, buying with cash provides a level of safety that credit and debit cards will never be able to match.
Tips: If shopping with cash isn’t possible, Hill recommends using a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit cards offer more protections than debit cards if fraud occur. Some credit cards also provide free, additional warranty or replacement options to protect your purchases. Among AARP recommendations: try not to make online purchases through public Wi-Fi networks, which can expose your personal or financial information.
Problem: For many, the holidays are a time of giving — and scammers regularly try to collect donations under false pretenses of being charitable organizations.
Solution: Do some research before making donations, especially if you are not familiar with an organization. Even some legitimate not-for-profit charities spend the majority of donations on administrative expenses or fundraising rather than on helping people. The AG’s website has a link to other sites where you can research organizations before making a donation.
Tips: Make donations by check rather than cash. Don’t succumb to pressure and remember it’s a common ploy for scammers to use names similar to legitimate organizations. Also be suspicious if you get a call thanking you for a contribution you don’t recall making. Hill says that’s a common tactic used to pressure people to “give again” or reveal personal information.
Online Shopping Scams
Problem: As online shopping becomes increasingly popular, scammers are looking to get in on the action. To get your money or credit card information, scammers are setting up websites that copy the appearance of websites operated by legitimate retailers. Scammers also advertise sales that look too good to be true.
Solution: Avoid sites that you’ve never heard of before. Always verify the websites you’re using and before providing credit card information or other personal data.
Tips: Many scammers trick consumers by creating URLs just a few letters different from better-known websites. For example, consumers on wa1mart.com may mistakenly think that they’re on the real Walmart website. Always make sure a URL includes https, indicating that it is a secure website. Call for Action, the national nonprofit that partners with IndyStar to operate a free consumer helpline, has a useful tip sheet on online privacy, including how to check domain name registrations.
Problem: While shopping online, you may encounter pop-up advertising indicating you’ve won a free gift or gift card. Hill says nearly all of these advertisements are scams aimed at getting your personal information. You also need to be careful buying gift cards from large, unsecured display racks in stores. Scambusters reports crooks are writing down card numbers from in-store displays, and later calling to check a card’s balance. If they find a card is activated, they use it for online purchases.
Solution: Never enter your personal and private information in response to prompts advertising free gifts or gift cards.
Tips: Buy gift cards from a customer service person, rather than from displays accessible to the public.
Problem: Scammers are worming their way into personal computers though bogus eCards and fake shipping notices, according to Tim Maniscalo, president and CEO of BBB Serving Central Indiana. Clicking on links in the messages can launch malware that can lead to the theft of your password and financial information.
Soultion: Don’t click on links in emails from someone you don’t know.
Tips: When in doubt, Maniscalo says, do more research on the sender or just delete it.
Tim Evans is IndyStar’s consumer advocate. Contact him at (317) 444-6204 or email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @starwatchtim